Taylorsville • Residents signed a petition and spoke to the city about the proposed fire district tax increase Wednesday night, convincing one council member to retract her earlier support and compelling the council to discuss alternatives.
The city is proposing a tax for next year to pay for membership in the Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area District, the governing body that funds the Unified Fire Authority (UFA). Currently, the city contracts with the UFA for service. The city cites a need for increased fire services and a new fire station. Joining the fire district is the most cost-effective way to attain those goals, city officials have said. Now, they are thinking otherwise.
On Wednesday night, council member Kristie Overson said she is no longer in support of the plan after residents in her district have bombarded her the past two weeks with emails and phone calls against the plan.
"I represent my district, and the residents let me know it." Overson told the council. "I would like to withdraw my interest to the fire district."
Only about a dozen residents were in attendance on Wednesday night compared to an overflowing crowd of more than 160 people on Sept. 12 for the first public hearing on the issue. That hearing included a presentation to the residents by UFA explaining the fire district.
In the Sept. 12 hearing, UFA officials said a concern about response times was one reason to increase fire resources. But Taylorsville battalion chief for UFA Jay Ziolkowski presented new data Wednesday night, which wasn't available on Sept. 12, from July 2011 to June 2012 showing response times were below average for the total calls UFA has agency-wide. Both their stations had response times under eight minutes.
Ziolkowski also said the city could pay for a less expensive fire station. A stock model would cost $3.5 million, with the ability to be built on, instead of the more expensive and larger one previously suggested.
He said joining the fire district is still overall the best option for the city. Citizens have voiced concerns about losing local control of the tax authority for fire services, but Ziolkowski said the city wouldn't lose control because Taylorsville would have a representative on the fire district board.
"Frankly, it is a complicated issue," council chair Jerry Rechtenbach said. "I just want to make sure everyone understands regardless of what we do … there is a cost to it."
Councilman Larry Johnson has opposed the plan and noted the aggressive efforts of residents to fight it. "The people have stated and you can tell by the way they are concerned and don't want [the city] to be part of the district, and I don't think it should either," he said.
The remaining council members were undecided on the plan, but mentioned they are now looking at other options after hearing from their constituents.
In June, the City Council hammered out a budget that included a half-year contract with UFA, assuming that they would join the fire district in January 2013.
Now if the city does not join the district, the council would have to reopen the budget to find out how to pay off the remaining amount in the contract $1.9 million.
"We would have to pull out of fund [savings] balance or bond just to pay the $1.9 million," Rechtenbach said.