TREMONTON - By Jessica Tanner - June 16, 2020
For months Tremonton’s City Council has grappled with the idea of hiring another police officer, full-time fire chief, as well as a two to four man crew, who would be available around the clock to ensure public safety. This proposal came with a big price tag and an increase in property taxes was contemplated.
During their most recent meeting, the council decided not to raise property taxes at this time. For now, they plan to look at ways they can cut costs in the city’s budget and acquire revenue to eventually pay for a full-time fire and EMS staff. Although it is an aging department and recruitment has proven difficult, the city will continue to rely on their top-notch volunteers to provide those services.
The idea of adding an additional officer would cost the city $87,000, which includes the total compensation value for their wages and benefits. A fire chief and three-person crew working a 48/96 schedule and providing around the clock coverage would require nine individuals to be hired. It was suggested that the $880,000 annual bill could be accomplished through a property tax increase.
Mayor Roger Fridal asked firefighters in attendance how quickly things needed to change.
Firefighter Nate Christensen said, “Without doing anything at all, it is pretty urgent. I think there are things that can be done to prolong it, but it would require work and involvement of the entire department.”
“In my opinion there are two things that need to happen for us to continue this way for at least a couple more years. First, we have to motivate those who are less motivated and we need to figure out a better recruiting process. Otherwise we’ll have to go full-time,” fire fighter Chris Scothern said.
Councilmember Bret Rohde asked what would happen to the volunteers if a full-time staff was brought on.
“The call volume they’d handle would decrease. I think you’re going to see some motivation decrease with that as well,” Scothern said.
They discussed ways they could go about increasing recruits, including possible incentives. The Council asked them to come back with plans for their review.
During public comment, several residents were in attendance to speak in opposition to the property tax increase.
Tremonton resident Ben Greener suggested they consider a city sales tax instead.
“I think you would collect more revenue from those people outside our town that use our city services,” Greener said. “I want you to consider other revenues before you consider raising property taxes. There are a lot of fixed income people and I think you will have a lot of rejection on this.”
Rebecca Anderson stated, “We 100% support our police and emergency services. They are phenomenal especially for just being voluntary, but with so many outlying communities using our services it seems like they should have a tax increase as well instead of just the citizens of Tremonton. It seems crazy in a town where we’re already having problems with the secondary water system, as well as people losing their jobs with the pandemic. To even consider raising property taxes, especially up to 64%, is insane.”
Councilmember Vance explained to the public that this has been an ongoing discussion.
“No decisions are being made at this point. We are just trying to get prepared for Truth and Taxation. I bet people will be standing in line to get in the building on the night we make those types of decisions,” Vance said.
He then suggested having all the departments within the city look at ways they could cutback.
“We as the city council sit between the public and city, and our responsibility is to protect both. We need to say where can we cut the budget to make up for the $888,000 we need to buy safety. Then we can say we have done all we can as a city to cut our expenses before we go out and ask citizens to pay more taxes,” Vance added.
City Manager Shawn Warnke said, “I know there are no easy solutions. This is your decision to make. I’m just trying to provide some perspective. If you want us to go back through the budget we can.”
“I am not going to raise taxes this year. I think we need to hire a fire chief and let them figure out how to make this system work for another year. Let’s see if they can come up with some solutions with our volunteers and get more recruits,” said Rohde.
Warnke said if the council doesn’t want to increase taxes then there is no sense going through the process of Truth and Taxation.
Councilmember Rick Seamons said, “We need to do our part first with the city to figure out what we have and what we can get. We need to take a better look at where the budget is.”
Fridal added the city needs to be conservative, but practical. He reminded the council that improvements to the city would have to continue and that citizens of Tremonton do enjoy a good quality of life.
“Are we willing to cut down on those things? It is a choice and the public has to pay a price for the life they live here. We have a great community and to keep it going we cannot turn backwards. I want some common sense ideas on where we can save a lot of money,” Fridal said.
Vance suggested that the city could offer incentives to employees who help save money.
“I cannot sit in front of the people we represent and tell them sorry we are so efficient we have no way of saving any money, you just have to pay if you want to live here. We have to show our effort before we ask citizens to increase their taxes,” said Vance.
Rohde recommended they add a police officer and fire chief to this year’s budget.
“That is the direction I would like to take, we need to do something and this is a start. Let’s see what adjustments we can come up with in the department to make it work. I would hate to lose that volunteer system,” said Rohde.
The council agreed and city staff will work on a budget that will be discussed at their next meeting.