Fire district membership up for vote in Taylorsville
The red-hot issue awaiting Taylorsville voters in the Nov. 5 city election is whether to join the Unified Fire Service Area (UFSA).
Proponents say the move would save money, fund reconstruction of an out-of-date fire station and beef up firefighting crews in the city. Opponents argue the move would cost residents more and contend Taylorsville is doing fine with the personnel and resources provided under its current contract.
Currently, Taylorsville levies taxes for fire and emergency services and contracts yearly with the Unified Fire Authority (UFA) to provide those services. But it has retained responsibility for building and maintaining fire stations and buying equipment.
A different arrangement exists for unincorporated Salt Lake County and the four cities (Midvale, Herriman, RiverÂton and Eagle Mountain) that belong to the UFSA, previously known as Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area or Salt Lake Valley Fire District.
The UFSA board has an elected official from each member city plus three county representatives. It sets the tax rate for the entire fire district. The board determines how the pot of money collected from all of the members is used. It also is responsible for maintenance and improvements, including construction of new stations.
Resident Wendi Wengel said becoming a UFSA member "doesn't make sense."
"Taylorsville hasn't had a significant increase in calls over the last three years, so more people are not necessary," said Wengel, a write-in candidate for the District 4 council seat and member of a citizens committee that researched the fire-district issue.
UFA officials acknowledge the number of fire and medical calls from Taylorsville has been steady, about 4,000 annually for the past three years. But they say surrounding cities have been carrying part of Taylorsville's load.
On average, a crew from another municipality comes into Taylorsville twice a day because firefighters stationed in the city are out on other calls, they said. And while Taylorsville-based firefighters occasionally answer calls in other jurisdictions, the city still receives six times the help its two stations give to the city's neighbors, UFA officials say.
Eventually, other fire departments might say it's time for Taylorsville to pay its fair share, said Jeremy Robertson, president of Local 1696, a chapter of the International Association of Firefighters and the Professional Firefighters of Utah.
That would be costly for city residents, he added, contending that joining the fire district is the best way to stabilize funding.
The debate over whether to join the fire district has raged for more than a year.
In June 2012, Taylorsville City Council members voted 4-1 to join, with Larry Johnson dissenting. At that time, the fire district planned to build a third station in the city and to add more personnel.
However, residents who said a third station was unnecessary gathered enough signatures to put the membership question on the Nov. 5, 2013, ballot. District membership was put on hold and the council appointed a citizens committee in April to study the issue. Most committee members agreed that joining the district would be too expensive and unnecessary.
The district now proposes to rebuild Station 117, which was constructed in the 1960s, farther south from its current location at 4545 S. Redwood Road. The new station would be big enough to hold two fire companies, one more than the city has now. A third company is housed at Station 118 at 5317 S. 2700 West.
Taylorsville also would get additional firefighters. So there would be one firefighter for every 4,925 residents instead of one per 6,566 now.
Ultimately, the decision could come down to money.
Proponents acknowledge that if the city joins the district, firefighting taxes for the owner of a $197,000 home would increase about 30 percent $7.50 a month or $90 a year. But if the city stays out, they contend contract prices for UFA services would go up 40 percent a year, costing that same homeowner an additional $9.96 a month or $119.52 annually.
Wengel doubts there will be a savings, as did the citizens committee's report in July. It concluded district property tax rates have increased more than the city's and that UFA fire stations cost much more than those of other fire departments.
If Taylorsville had belonged to the district since its formation in 2006, said committee member Talmage Pond, it would have paid $5.3 million more than it has through the contractual setup. "All the evidence I've seen says we shouldn't be part of the district," he said.
Wengel also fears city residents will lose control over local fire service because they will have just one representative on the district board.
But at an August meeting, UFA Chief Michael Jensen told Taylorsville council members that cities do not forfeit control over the firefighting force when they join the UFSA.
"You are the owner," Jensen said. "Joining the district is a better financing tool for you."
Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, chairwoman of the UFSA board, said her city saved $2.5 million by joining the district and the Unified Police Department a few years ago. Midvale was using two-thirds of its budget for public safety and facing big deficits, she said. The move stabilized municipal finances without a tax increase.
"The service has been amazing," Seghini said. "It's the best thing we ever did."
Firefighters think it's a good idea, too.
"We're encouraging folks to vote yes," said Robertson, the firefighters' union president. "It's a safety issue."
Learn more about the fire district issue
Taylorsville voters will cast ballots Nov. 5 on whether the city should join the Unified Fire Service Area. For more information, visit these websites:
Candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot
In addition to fire district membership, four city positions are up for a vote in Taylorsville.
Running for Taylorsville mayor are city Councilman Larry Johnson and incumbent Jerry Rechtenbach, a former city councilman. Rechtenbach was elevated to mayor in January when Russ Wall resigned to become Salt Lake County's public works director; Johnson cast the one vote against his appointment.
In District 3, Dave Ballou (Johnson's son-in-law) and incumbent Brad Christopherson are facing off for a spot on the city council. Christopherson, an attorney, was chosen in January to fill Rechtenbach's council seat; Ballou, an insurance broker and agent, was one of six other candidates who applied for the job.
Incumbent Dama Barbour and challenger Wendi Wengel, who are retired businesswomen, are running for the District 4 council seat.
The District 5 council race pits Ken Acker and Daniel Jon Armstrong, both a CPA and businessman, against each other. (Johnson currently represents the district).
The winner in District 3 will serve the two years left on Rechtenbach's term. Other winners will serve four-year terms. For more candidate information, visit http://bit.ly/1bvXRjY.
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