TREMONTON – By Jessica Tanner – June 2, 2020
Over the years Tremonton City’s emergency medical services and fire department have provided top-notch service to the valley. However, an aging volunteer base and a growing city are increasing the need for emergency help.
The city is contemplating hiring a full-time fire and EMS staff, which comes with a big annual bill. To help pay for that property taxes could be increased by 35% to 64%.
Tremonton is required to go through the Truth and Taxation process, which the city has not done in over 30 years.
A meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 2, at 6 p.m., where the council will discuss their plan of action and setup a public hearing. A copy of that meeting's agenda can be found below.
“We cannot keep kicking this down the road. We have to figure out what we are going to do,” said Tremonton City Mayor Roger Fridal.
“If you do kick off Truth and Taxation, just be honest and transparent about it,” said Box Elder County Auditor Tom Kotter. “The ones that go the smoothest are the entities who are upfront and show people how it impacts them.”
For the past few months, Tremonton’s City Council has discussed the idea of hiring a full-time fire chief, along with a two to four man crew available around the clock. Another police officer is also needed. This team, along with the volunteer firefighters, would help the city ensure a quick response time when disaster strikes.
With 30 members and four in training the department’s top priority is to provide a high level of service in a timely manner.
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“Our biggest challenge has been and continues to be manpower as an on-call paid volunteer department,” said Tremonton Fire Chief Steve Batis. “This makes our citizens and businesses vulnerable in an emergency. These men and women have full-time jobs, families, obligations, and commitments outside the department and have given everything they can.”
The firefighters also voiced their opinion during a recent council meeting.
“The call volume is just overwhelming,” said Wes Estep. “I figure 39 years is enough—I still love the city, but I do not feel I can give anymore.”
Amy Cole stated, “This is only going to get much worse because our town is booming. There is a lot of growth and families coming in, which means more calls.”
Blair Westergard said, “No one wants to pay for it, but we need some kind of a guarantee that the city is covered.”
“Maybe it is time we just bite it and look at going toward full-time. You can still use the volunteers and look at the cheapest option in the next year to get going in the right direction,” Jeff Oyler added.
Brian Potts, from Potts and Associates, was brought in to help evaluate options. He said once a city hits a population of over 7,500 it changes the game. Tremonton hit that in 2010 and the volunteers have been great to keep things going.
“We have struggled to cover our calls,” said Batis “We are not manning them at the strength we used to. Nearly 40 years ago we made 300 calls a year, now we are at 1,500.”
Tremonton City Manager Shawn Warnke said the volunteers want to continue to be involved but need help.
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“They have given a lot of service and been able to keep the cost of fire service really low. If we go this direction we want to merge the two and continue to have them as part of the department,” Warnke said.
The cost for an entry-level police officer would be $87,000 and a fire chief would be $96,000. A two-man crew on 12-hour day shifts, seven days a week would cost $325,000. A two-man crew with 24/7 coverage is $469,000, while a three-man crew on a 24/7 shift jumps to $704,000. The four-man crew, which would provide the ability to cover two ambulances, is $938,000.
“Nearly 40% of the fire department’s staff has served for over 20 years and those over the age of 50 respond 50% of the time. Your volunteers are aging and getting burned out. If you go to a two-man crew around the clock then you will have two people out the door, knowing a volunteer crew is coming right behind them,” Potts said.
Tremonton Councilmember Lyle Vance said, “We need to be realistic with the cost to our citizens and what is fair.”
Councilmember Bret Rohde suggested having a couple councilmembers visit surrounding cities to see if they would be willing to pay for their portion of the ambulance service.
“Most cities would agree with you,” said Councilmember Connie Archibald. “If the shoe was on the other foot they would expect us to pay. It is the honest thing to do.”
Potts suggested the city hire a full-time fire chief and three-man crew, which gives the city four men plus volunteers to augment big calls.
“A half a million-dollar commitment a year is a huge step for us. I still think we need to go to the two-man, 48/96 shift with a police officer to start with,” Vance said.
If Tremonton were to consider a two-man crew and a police officer, taxes would increase by 35%, while a three-man crew and officer would increase that to 50%. An officer, fire chief and three-man crew would cost nearly $1 million annually for a 64% increase in taxes.
“I prefer the three-man crew, but I do not have a problem with the two-man crew. I still have a full-time job so trying to manage six to nine full-time people on top of that is going to be tough. I do not know how someone could manage full-time employees without working for the City full-time,” Batis said.
The council agreed to start the Truth and Taxation process, which will require a public hearing, giving citizens a chance to express their thoughts before the council makes a decision.