By Naomi Hatch
Members of the Fire Department Review Committee (FDRC) reported to the Snowflake Town Council March 12, and were asked to continue their work, and return with a report noting revenues they felt the Snowflake Fire Department would need and how to secure them.
In May 2012, the council approved the formation of the FDRC, which began meeting the following month.
At the first meeting, Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson explained their purpose was to be able to look outside and see what options there were for the fire department, FDRC Chairman Terril Kay told those attending last week’s meeting of the town council.
“We took that at face value and started looking at our funding, our budgets, our future needs, our shortfalls and how it came together,” he said.
The committee found that the SFD was struggling to maintain services at its present funding level, so the committee then focused more on the budget and how it would provide required services to the community.
They discussed the budget and talked about the money brought through wildland fires, they talked about donations and went to Navajo County to talk to officials about supporting SFD when fire fighters go to a county fire. They looked into taxes, including sales tax, fire department tax, and Senate Bill 1470, which allows the council to vote through the people to support fire and police departments.
In researching they found that many fire departments also manage an ambulance service, and eventually the committee asked about the ambulance service and how it was created, and what the existing contracts are with the Town of Taylor. The committee asked SFD Chief Pat Hancock to pursue the possibility of Snowflake starting an ambulance service.
Backup material noted, “Chief Hancock met with the Department of Health Services CON (Certificate of Need) office director Harry Eth. Mr. Eth advised that the CON was owned by the Town of Snowflake, and that the Town of Taylor was operating as a “DBA” (doing business as) under Snowflake CON.”
Chief Hancock then requested the CON documentation. It was discovered “that, in fact, the Town of Snowflake did not completely own the CON, but that it was owned equally by both towns, Taylor and Snowflake.”
Kay explained that in looking at an ambulance service and discussing it with other departments it was found the ambulance plays an important role.
“Our main concern was to bring revenue to the fire department to be able to better fund it, but not keep asking the town for better support or money, and not to go to the people for more taxes,” Kay stated.
He further noted that realizing the fire department’s needs were greater than the budgets they could come up with and realizing donations could be an option, but were not a set amount, they focused in the areas of taxes, ambulance services and outsourcing fees to the communities with which Snowflake doesn’t have service agreements.
“In conclusion, as a chairman of the committee we come to you today to ask for guidance,” said Kay to the council.
He explained that in the beginning he was opposed to a fire district, but as he studied the situation he has realized that a fire district would be a good option.
In response to a question from Mayor Kelly Willis, Kay said that the committee is in favor of a fire district, but there are members who have concerns about citizens voting to approve a fire district and rogue fire districts. They found that districts are regulated and can only increase five percent each year, which would limit the rogue district.
“We have a winning team. We have a team that is going to go out and make it happen, that will make this be successful,” said Kay speaking of the committee and getting voter approval for a fire district.
“Ambulance service was simply an idea. It was an idea that would bring revenue,” said Kay, noting they were looking at it as a business.
Beginning Sept. 1, 2012, a policy adopting a billing policy was put into place. This policy is similar to many other fire departments.
Council members then asked questions and discussed the issues. Several said they felt that further discussions should include Taylor.
In response a question posed by the mayor, Kay said, “The number one goal of our committee would be to combine the two towns, to work together to build a better process. Our committee also has a stance that we want to move forward in the committee to make it work. Just because one town doesn’t pass (the district), the other shouldn’t be penalized.”
Kay said that they met with Taylor officials on March 11, and went through their ambulance budget noting, “Clint (Burden) says their ambulance service is becoming where it’s barely bringing some money to the table.”
Kay said he felt having the ambulance service lowers the cost of the fire department because you cross train personnel and use the same building. He further noted that he feels Taylor Ambulance Service is making $100,000 a year and that he felt the ambulance service is supporting the Taylor Fire Department.
“I think we really have to do whatever it takes to not separate the ambulance service, because we have an excellent service right now,” said Councilman Chris Brimhall. “It’s going to cost more money, I’ll guarantee it, if you have separate services running 24 hours a day.” He suggested that perhaps there should be an agreement under which Snowflake would get some of the profits.
“At the end of the day we’re looking at advice from this council,” said Kay. “Our one concern is our fire departments and how they hold to different policies.” He said he felt it would be good if they were on the same page.
Mayor Willis had asked the committee to bring facts, figures and feelings to the council. “A fire district, in any sense of the word, is a hard sale, especially in a town that is very conservative, a town that has lost a very important part of its revenue,” the mayor said.
He asked that the committee bring back to the council what kind of revenues members feel the fire department would need and what avenue is going to take them there.
In other business, the council unanimously approved moving Kerry Ballard, a member of the FDRC representing the community member at large, to fill the council vacancy and Greg Brimhall to fill Ballard’s vacancy.
Committee members now serving are Chairman Terrill Kay, Tom Poscharsky, Joe Bjornn, Kerry Ballard, John Sherman, Greg Brimhall, Robb Hatch and Chief Hancock.
By Naomi Hatch