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    Thumbs down Saratoga Springs looks at UFA Fire Options

    Saratoga Springs seeks input on fire agency options
    StoryDiscussionSaratoga Springs seeks input on fire agency options

    both Saratoga Springs residents, listen to Unified Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen as he answers their questions at a city open house Wednesday intended to present options for community fire fighting/paramedic service and to gather resident input.

    SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Unified Fire Authority has been wooing Saratoga Springs for nearly a year and appears to have continued interest in winning the north county city's contract for fire and emergency medical service in the community.

    Saratoga Springs hosted a two-hour open house to present fire and emergency medical service options to its residents and to gather their input on the issue, either contracting with UFA based out of Salt Lake County or joining the Utah County Metro Fire Agency.

    About 10 residents at most, who were not firefighters, related to firefighters or elected officials, attended the open house.

    "I just wanted to see," said Sue Alexander. "As a matter of fact, I was disappointed. I wanted to see the differences -- the disadvantages and advantages if we stayed as we are.

    "To me it's a no-brainer," Alexander said. "Why would we join UFA that has no other department in Utah County and lose our autonomy when we could join metro, and we still have the support of our neighbors and still be independent."

    UFA Fire Chief Michael Jensen, Deputy Chief Gaylord Scott and Ryan Perry were there answering questions about Unified Fire.

    Jensen said UFA is a large agency, had more to offer at the same cost or less than what the city can do currently, and serves more than 375,000 people in Alta, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Herriman, Holladay, Riverton, Taylorsville and unincorporated areas in Salt Lake County.

    A Utah County Metro Agency organizer was noticeably missing from the open house. Given the option of a cooperative, the Saratoga Springs Fire Department would remain as a city department, but the municipality would join to benefit from the metro agency's greater purchasing power, training and stronger mutual aid.

    "I think both proposals are pretty similar," said assistant city manager Spencer Kyle. "Both result in qualified staff, the cost is almost equal, response time is the same, but with a metro agency we have more control."

    He said staff is recommending staying as a city-run fire department and joining the metro agency instead of contracting with UFA, although he said he thinks Saratoga Springs firefighters are divided on the issue.

    Saratoga Springs resident Mike Durfee was in favor of the UFA option.

    "I think we need to get our fire stations up and better, we need to get our ISO rating up," Durfee said. "And they have all the equipment."

    Durfee said Unified Fire would do that. Kyle said that is only if they join UFA as a taxing entity, allowing UFA to tax for additional fire stations, staff and equipment. Saratoga Springs leaders are not considering that option, considering instead a contract with the entity and retaining more control and its taxing authority.

    The Saratoga Springs Fire Department is a fairly new fire and emergency medical department, having been established in a barn that was owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2000. The department moved into a two-bay pull-through station in 2006 containing living quarters, administrative offices, physical fitness room and a training room, and began providing ambulance service the same year.

    UFA has said it would retain the firefighters, both full-time and part-time, working currently for the city.

    The idea of a metro agency for north Utah County began about a year ago when firefighters saw how well it worked in Davis and Salt Lake counties, Lone Peak Fire Chief Brad Freeman has said.

    Yet in the organizational stages, both Lone Peak and Lehi have supported the plan.

    A few Goshen residents were at the open house. The small town borders Saratoga Springs and has waited to see what the outcome would be.
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    Saratoga Springs opts to join Utah County fire agency

    SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The city leaders of Saratoga Springs have opted to join the Utah County Metro Fire Agency, a group of cities now organizing for joint fire protection and resources.

    "The majority of the comments we received were in support of metro," said Saratoga Springs city manager Mark Christensen. "It would enhance the cities' collective purchasing powers. We are starting to see that as a benefit already."

    Joining the metro agency will formalize the process of how Utah County cities' fire department personnel receive additional training, respond to automatic aid call outs and get specialized training. Council members unanimously decided to join with the local group.

    "We will have joint purchasing, joint cooperation, mutual support and no increase in taxation. You really do not get better than that," said Councilman Bud Poduska.

    A public hearing was held by Saratoga Springs city in the city offices concerning the adoption of Metro Fire Services on April 5. Those who attended submitted comments on the three options -- join the Unified Fire Authority, join the Utah County Metro Fire Agency, or remain the same.

    "When we look at control, equipment, funding," Metro Fire solves many of the city's issues, said Mayor Mia Love. "I think in the end we came out with a better product and I appreciate the council."

    Councilman Cecil Tuley said he was concerned about the possible cost of joining the agency.

    The city is already absorbing the cost and its employees are performing fire fighting and emergency care duties, according to city staff.

    "We are already coordinating with our neighbors," Christensen said. "In contrast to the UFA proposal the city looked at last year, we did not incorporate a taxing element."

    Councilman Brent Call seemed positive about the co-op type pricing but asked how certain situations using equipment would be resolved.

    The possibility of a freeloader trying to manipulate the metro system was not an issue, according to Christensen.

    "We do not anticipate that being a problem," he said. "The other members would not take kindly to that."
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