BOUNTIFUL—After two and a half hours and a stream of residents coming to the podium speaking both for and against, the Board of Directors of South Davis Metro Fire Service Area voted unanimously for a property tax increase on Monday night.
The meeting room at the Bountiful Fire Station was packed with residents and first responders with the South Davis Metro Fire Agency. Fire Chief Jeff Bassett explained to the board the need for the proposed increase of about $60 a year or $5 a month on an average value home.
A top priority is to increase full-time employees, he said. “Currently we only have two firefighters on a truck and we should have four,” said Bassett. “The national standard for response time should be four minutes 90 percent of the time. We can’t make that because we don’t have four men. Ours is about at the six-minute mark. We need to cut that down.”
“This is an easy one for me,” said Bountiful Mayor Randy Lewis, a member of the board. “I think the chief and board have done a great job here over the four years I’ve been on the board. This has been vetted and revetted. It’s not a hard decision. It’s important to give them (first responders) what they need to make sure your husband or wife doesn’t get a response time of six minutes. What you’re paying for is two minutes of change. Buying those two minutes can potentially save the life of your loved one.”
In addition to staffing, Bassett said the increase would fund improvements on two fire stations, building a new station in Centerville, the purchase of a ladder truck and replacing equipment such as air packs and radios.
“When we formed the service area last year we gave notice that we’d need to come back with an increase this year to meet our needs,” he said. “That’s where we are today. We’ve held several open houses and presented at all the city council meetings. I’ve been in neighborhoods and when people understand they’re mostly supportive.”
But not everyone felt that way. “Firefighter safety has always been paramount,” said Bountiful resident Tom Hardy. “But safety doesn’t mean we have to add 24 positions. The board should consider it on the basis of activity. Do it incrementally and in a way that doesn’t hurt the citizens. How much can we afford?”
“I appreciate these men in blue,” said Paul Freeman, another resident. “I support an incremental increase as time goes by not a huge one that knocks your socks off. I for one don’t get raises on disability. This affects me dramatically. You need to rethink this.”
On the flip side, other residents and first responders spoke in favor of the increase. “I’m a full-time firefighter with Salt Lake,” said one woman. “I used to work here but I got tired of feeling like somebody was going to get hurt. I didn’t leave the agency for lack of training – they’re good. How much are you willing to train firefighters to have them go to another agency? I’m not comfortable with a 26-year-old vehicle showing up to my house that’s on fire.”
The spouse of a firefighter gave an emotional plea to the board to help protect her husband. “A few years ago there was a huge windstorm in Centerville,” she said. “My husband was not at home where he should be, he was out serving you. I want to have him come home when he’s finished serving you – for all of us – my three kids who need a dad to come home and do his real job. Keep a perspective of that.”
“I crunched the numbers and $5 a month equates to about 25 cents a day to respond when I call 911 and I get weekends for free,” said Clint Jeppson. “If all the ambulances are gone on other calls when my dad falls off a roof again and needs serious help who’s going to help him? For 25 cents a day you guys are going to respond on Christmas, Thanksgiving and during my Memorial Day barbecue. Knowing someone is going to show up means a great deal to me.”
Other residents expressed frustration over more taxes. “I think they do a really great job and I’ll be the first to sign up to give them a raise,” said Mike Holmes. “It’s not that it’s just one increase though, it’s a little bit here and here. It appears we’ve sat on our hands for years and years and now we want to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. What’s to say we won’t be here next year for some $40 increase on something else? I’m on a fixed income and this hurts.”
“Once the government gets their hands on your money you’ll never see it again,” complained another woman. “The sewer district wants more, Davis County wants an increase, the library wants an increase and if the Our Schools Now group goes through they want an increase. We can’t afford everything we want. We need to trim back and get by with what we can.”
Ultimately the board voted unanimously to approve the proposal. “It’s a tough decision but it needs to be made,” said West Bountiful Mayor Ken Romney who is also on the board. “I had to really step back and look at the district as a whole or we won’t get things done.”
“I’m comforted to know that if my daughter is in a car wreck there’s somebody to address that,” said Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn. “We take these people for granted.”