Unified Fire offering service to Utah County
StoryDiscussionLance Madigan - Correspondent

The Salt Lake-based Unified Fire Authority is looking to expand into Utah County, and started last week by making a proposal to the Saratoga Springs City Council.

Currently the UFA provides fire and emergency medical services for more than 400,000 residents of Alta, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Herriman, Holladay, Riverton, Taylorsville, and unincorporated Salt Lake County.

Besides the City Council and staff, the UFA presentation also was reviewed by representatives from many of the other northern Utah County fire departments.

"Some of us wanted to see what it was all about," said Lehi Fire Chief Dale Ekins, who attended the presentation. He said fire fighting service was a business aspect of the city as much as any other, and wanted to see what Unified Fire Authority was offering.

"We might be the next city they make a presentation to," he said.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love wanted to make sure that all residents understood this was just something being investigated.

"This is something we are reviewing," Love said. "We as council members go around and try and find things to improve our city. We are doing our due diligence by making sure we are looking at every single aspect, every single thing we can do to improve public safety in our city. This is just a discussion. I just want to make that clear."

Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Tim Hay declined to comment at this point, saying he would give his own presentation on his proposal for the fire department at the Tuesday City Council meeting. The council meets at 7 p.m. in the City Offices, and meetings are open to the public.

UFA Chief Michael Jensen said each city chooses what services as well as how much of those services they are willing to pay the UFA.

"What kind of service level would you like?" Jensen said. "Do you want paramedics in all your stations? Do you want ambulances? What configuration of staffing would you like? Do you want engines, ladders? What is it you would like to see?"

Each city also had different options in how they wanted to pay for the service. Some cities, like Draper, are what he referred to as "regular members" that put the cost of fire and EMS into their city budgets, collected taxes from their citizens as part of their city's general operating funds, and then would pay a service fee to the UFA.

The other option for cities is to become a part of the UFA District. It is a special service district that can levy a property tax to cover expenses directly.

Jensen said Saratoga Springs currently pays approximately $858,000 for firefighting and EMS service. To maintain current staffing levels and service, Jensen said it would cost the city about $958,000 through the UFA as a regular member.

He added, however, that much of the difference would actually be made up in a grant the city is currently getting, which would be transferred to the UFA.

To become a member of the UFA District, Jensen said he estimated that Saratoga Springs residents would see their taxes decreased from the city and increased from the special service district, hopefully washing out close to even.

"It is impossible to say for sure until we work out further details," he said.

Jensen, for his part, didn't act like UFA's intention was to make a hostile business takeover.

"No matter what, support your firefighters," Jensen said. "Give them all the support they need to do their jobs."