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Tax increase meant to benefit residents, firefighters
by Becky Ginos
Jul 13, 2017 | 1464 views | 0 0 comments | 137 137 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Foxboro fire station in North Salt Lake is on the list for improvements if the property tax increase proposal goes through.
The Foxboro fire station in North Salt Lake is on the list for improvements if the property tax increase proposal goes through.
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BOUNTIFUL—Last week the South Davis Metro Fire Agency proposed a property tax increase to cover critical needs in staffing and equipment. Some residents may be asking why since there was already an increase last year.

“When we created the service area last year we did it because we couldn’t go out and bond for that because we we’re a separate entity. We didn’t have that option,” said South Davis Metro Fire Chief Jeff Bassett. “The best method is to bond and get the money to do the things we need that will last for a long time. We created the lowest available rate and each city was required to drop their tax rate equal to ours. If we came in with a large number it would have been too much for the cities.”

Bassett said the agency was proactive in explaining the need for a tax increase in 2017. “We’re at a critical point to move forward,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot out of the money.”

A top priority is to increase full-time employees, he said. “Currently we only have two firefighters on a truck and we should have four,” said Bassett. “According to OSHA and national guidelines we need four. If we have a house fire and only two show up, one has to watch the pump and then there’s only one to do anything. It takes a lot of fire trucks to get the manpower we need. Response time increases because they’re waiting for other fire trucks to arrive.”

Typically it takes 15 people to work a fire even if it’s in just one room, said Bassett. “We only average between 8 to 11. It puts our employees at risk because we have to do more with less manpower.”

Another big, but much needed expense, is a new ladder truck. “Our current truck is 26 years old,” Bassett said. “The amount of area we protect is booming with taller buildings so we have to do elevated fire attacks and evacuations. The old truck is costing us more money just to maintain it. A truck runs about $1 million to $1.5 million and that’s just for the truck with no equipment.”

For these high dollar items, Bassett said if they aren’t successful with the property tax increase, they’ll have to turn to the cities. “It’s got to come from somewhere. But we’re being very transparent and clear where the money goes.”

Funding is also crucial for three fire stations. “The Centerville station opened in 1988 and it was designed for volunteer (firefighters) only,” said Bassett. “It’s not built for a 24-hour crew. We have four people at that station but we hope to get six. The station is too small. Men and women just share a unisex locker room and there is no training area. A new ladder truck wouldn’t fit in that building.”

They looked at remodeling the existing facility but determined it would be cheaper to build a new one, he said. “We’d like to buy new land in the same location because it needs to be centered in town. There’s not enough room on the existing property. You need about an acre or acre and a half for a good design that will last for 40 to 50 years.”

The Mueller Park station was remodeled several years ago but the construction company graded it so that all the water goes toward the building, Bassett said. “The foundation is crumbling and there’s mold which is a health hazard. It needs a new parking lot which is significant because it will have to be reengineered.”

Neither station was built to withstand earthquakes either, he said. “We need to do some structural improvements because we believe the garage bay would collapse in an earthquake.”

At the Foxboro station, the back parking lot was never completed. “It’s a specialty station for the HAZMAT team,” said Bassett. “We have to carry up to 1,000 feet of containment booms and frankly, we don’t have anywhere to put them. We need storage. There’s quite a bit of money tied up just in those stations.”

The funds would also be used for capital replacement needs such as airpacks and public safety radios. “We’ve been chipping away but we need to upgrade,” he said. “Parts aren’t even available because they’re so old. We also want to sustain a vehicle replacement program so we don’t have fire trucks going to 26 years and then have big expenditures.”

Bassett said the proposed increase would be $60 a year or $5 a month on an average value home. “When we started the service area we increased it by $1.50 a month. These are challenging times and it’s a hard thing to burden citizens but our call volume has increased every year. From 1997 to 2015 we never had an increase in staffing. In 2015 we hired six full-time people. It helped but didn’t get us to where we need to be.”

The national standard for response time should be four minutes 90 percent of the time, he said. “We can’t make that because we don’t have four men. Ours is about at the six-minute mark. We need to cut that down.”

South Metro will be holding several open houses for public input. “We know it’s a big increase but I think we’re maximizing the money needed to cover so many things,” said Bassett. “We hope the public supports us. These are critical needs that have to be addressed for the benefit of our employees and the citizens when they need urgent help.”

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