Article Last Updated: Saturday, August 14, 2004 - 12:02:15 AM MST

Park City Fire District taxes could increase 29 percent

By Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

With big plans to expand over the next four years, on Wednesday, the Park City Fire District will ask citizens to support raising taxes in the district about 29 percent so additional firefighters can be hired to staff new buildings.
Before the end of 2006, the Fire District will build three new fire stations near The Canyons, in Promontory and in lower Deer Valley.

Construction of a training tower for firefighters behind the fire station on Bitner Road in the Snyderville Basin is set to commence next summer and the Fire District could have new administrative offices in Park City by the end of 2006.

The District has outgrown its headquarters on Park Avenue and Park City Fire Chief Kelly Gee says, in 2007, it will rebuild or relocate that station elsewhere.

A peloton of riders descends Browns Pass as Park Citys version of the Tour de France kicks off on Friday. Some of the top cyclists in the country will be vying for national titles during this weeks inaugural Park City Cycling Festival. Photo by Grayson West/Park Record

- Grant writing made easy
- Opposition mounts to marriage amendment
- State criticized for water plan
- Spiro annexation wins OK

The Fire District has secured a $6.5 million financing package to fund these improvements with which firefighters will also purchase a fire engine for the station near The Canyons, a wildland engine to be housed near Promontory and a replacement fire engine to accommodate other stations in western Summit County.

The certified tax rate in the Fire District increased in 2004 but in order to ratchet it up roughly 29 percent, the District must hold a Truth in Taxation hearing. The meeting is scheduled Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pinebrook Fire Station at 2575 West Kilby Road. Public comment will be taken that night before Fire Commissioners make a decision on the hike.

The average home in the District is valued at $382,000, Gee said.

The 2004 certified rate increased that primary homeowner's Fire District assessment to $192. If the additional increase is approved the number would jump to $248, Gee said.

That's roughly $65 per every $100,000 of taxable property value for full-time Summit County residents an increase of about $15 per year.

According to Gee, businesses with property values of $382,000 would pay about $451 in property tax in 2004 an increase of $102 if the board approves the proposed tax hike.

"The capital financing is something we know we have needed for quite some time," Gee said about the $6.5 million loan, adding that it could be paid back within 10 years. "It was a timing issue."

The District essentially broke even, financially, on emergency services it provided during the 2002 Winter Olympics, but Gee was unsure how much long-term financing would be necessary until those books were balanced.

Property tax is the Fire District's largest source of funding, he said.

In 2003, it collected about $4.9 million in property-tax revenue and the District expects to collect $6.4 million in 2004, Gee said.

"Growth is continuing," he said about post-Olympics construction in western Summit County. "The tax increase is for personnel."

The Fire District consists of roughly 100 square-miles and currently employs 55 full-time firefighters, nine administrative employees and 21 seasonal or part-time workers, Gee said.

He expects the proposed .00118 tax rate to meet staffing needs and not change through 2008.

"We've been deficient in our service delivery," Gee said. "We have had back-to-back calls many times."

Recent audits of the Fire District by the insurance industry have revealed weaknesses in response times due to the location of its stations and the number of firefighters available to respond to incidents, Gee said.

"We didn't want to see our rating increase," Gee said, adding that commercial entities in the Fire District would suffer most from a deteriorating insurance rating.

According to Gee, the tax rate in the District has increased three times since 1993.

"People understand the basic needs that go along with growth," he said.

In July, the District had received about 300 more calls in 2004 than the same time last year, Gee said, adding that a significant amount of those were placed from the Snyderville Basin.

And based on its present plans, if the tax hike is not approved Wednesday, the District could face a roughly $1.1 million deficit.

According to the Fire District, the breakdown of the $6.5 million loan includes:

$1.35 million for a fire station at The Canyons

$400,000 for the district training facility

$700,000 for the Promontory fire station

$500,000 for new administrative offices

$1.1 million for the lower Deer Valley fire station

$1.3 million for renovations to the fire station on Park Avenue

The cost for three new fire engines is $325,000, $275,000 and $550,000 respectively