Concerned about potential flaws in a planned firefighting agency, Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman today will propose creation of a special service district for fire protection instead.
Workman wants to scrap plans for a Unified Fire Authority (UFA) encompassing Holladay, Draper, Taylorsville, Riverton, Herriman and the unincorporated county. In its place, she is calling for a fire-protection district.
A fire district would achieve the same goals as the UFA, says Deputy Mayor Alan Dayton. But the county and cities would be locked into the service, meaning no parties could opt out as allowed under the UFA proposal. Neither plan is expected to raise taxes, but unlike the UFA, a district would have taxing authority and be listed separately on tax notices.
"This is the result of trying to make a better Unified Fire Authority," Dayton said Monday. "It's the same concept, and that is to take something people are already collaborating on and combine it."
The new plan comes a week after Dayton criticized the proposed UFA contract in a 29-point memorandum. His main complaint: The county would pump $38 million in trucks and stations, along with a $24 million annual budget, into the agency and get only three seats on an eight-member board in return. A fire district also would be overseen by a board, but Dayton says no decisions have been made about its makeup.
Forming a district would require some tweaking of state law, something Dayton hopes the county could achieve during the 2003 Legislature. The County Council and each city council also would have to sign off.
Councilman Michael Jensen, a county firefighter who has pushed to create the UFA, says the mayor's plan is "absolutely great," but he adds that there is no reason the county cannot adopt the UFA and then work toward a fire-protection district.
"That's absolutely what ultimately we need to have happen," Jensen said. "We can do a fire authority now and move forward with the fire district. . . . We need to take baby steps."
Ditto, says Taylorsville Mayor Janice Auger.
"Let's go forward with the UFA and if some legislative fix can be accomplished, then it can be incorporated," she said. "Why wait five months to find out what the Legislature will do?"
County Fire Department spokesman Jay Ziolkowski issued a statement Monday saying the department supports the UFA's intent, "but will continue to evaluate the best management system for the delivery of services." That, Ziolkowski said, includes supporting Workman's "resolve to find the best solution for the future of the department."
Workman's fire district plan has the support of Councilman Russell Skousen.
"The UFA is just too loosey-goosey," he said. "It's a breach of fiduciary responsibility to give [the Fire Department] away under the current structure."
A fire district, he adds, "is less of an unknown quantity. To me, when you have a special service district, it's less confusing about how things operate and there are more expectations of fair treatment."
Council Chairman David Wilde wants to hear more about each plan before signing on to either. But, he added, "I would like to do something for the people in Taylorsville and the other contract cities so they have a bit more input on the Fire Department."
tburr@sltrib.com