The North Tooele County Fire District took one step closer to regaining jurisdiction Tuesday night.
On Oct. 15 the Tooele County Commission held a public hearing on the conversion of NTCFD from a special service district to a local district.
As a local district the NTCFD would be an autonomous political subdivision of the state with full authority to run the district, including authority for bonding, taxing, annexation, and elections.
As a special service district the NTCFD remains under the jurisdiction of the county commission and the authority to bond, tax, annex, and hold elections stays in the hands of the commission, according to state law.
Kevin Astill, chairman of the NTCFD, told the commissioners during the public hearing that the NTCFD board supports the change to a local district.
“These changes are just housekeeping to get things back to how we have been operating,” said Astill. “It returns the autonomy that we had before.”
The change is about more than taxation, according to NTCFD Chief Randy Willden,
“In essence, the change will make the fire district staff responsible to the locally elected fire board for the operations of the fire district,” he said. “This is the mode of operation the fire district was in for the first 24 years of its existence.”
The NTCFD was organized in 1987 by the county commission. For 24 years the commission appointed a fire board that ran the district unfettered.
In 2011 however, the state legislature decided to limit the authority of appointed boards. One of the powers that the NTCFD lost was the authority to set a tax rate.
The county commissioners thought they solved the autonomy problem in 2012 when they changed the NTCFD from an appointed board to an elected board.
However, in the process of reviewing a proposed increase in the certified tax-rate, the Utah State Tax Commission found that the NTCFD was organized as a special service district, not a local district.
With that technicality the fire district fell under the umbrella of the county commission.
“I am responsible for running all of the day-to-day operations and I report to the elected board,” said Willden. “The elected board and I develop a budget based on the needs of the fire district, the communities we serve and the volunteers who serve NTCFD. Then, one time a year, at a one or two hour meeting, the county commissioners are supposed to digest this budget and approve, deny or modify it. Seems unfair to the communities we serve.”
In 2013 the legislature approved a process that allowed special service districts to convert to a local district. The process requires that the creating authority, in this case the county commission, hold a public hearing and accept written comments for 15 days after the public hearing before voting on the change.
For the NTCFD the change to a local district will restore it to the local, self-governing role it enjoyed for 24 years.
“We feel like a local board meeting rather than a county commission meeting is more in line with our community needs and the fire district needs,” said Willden. “The elected board is also more in touch with the needs and wants of the communities they serve, and are elected by their neighbors and community members. If people feel like the board is not in touch, the board members can be voted out.”
No one came forward at the public meeting to oppose the change. After 15 days the county commissioners may place on their agenda a vote for the conversion of the NTCFD to a local district.