The North Tooele County Fire District can switch from a special service district to a local district after the Tooele County Commission approved the process Tuesday.
The change will allow the NTCFD board to adopt tax rates higher than the certified rate without the approval of the Tooele County Commission.
Currently as a special service district, the Truth in Taxation process, along with the final decision about a tax rate for the fire district, is in the hands of the county commission.
As a local district the NTCFD board will be responsible for setting the tax rate and holding tax and budget hearings independent of the county commission.
“This will lead to local control and allow the fire district board that spends 10 months working on the budget, to make decisions about the department,” said NTCFD Chief Randy Willden.
All five members of the NTCFD board, which are elected by voters in the fire district, support the change, Willden said.
The NTCFD was established in 1987 and previously had an appointed board that adopted the budget and set tax rates. In 2011 the state legislature passed a law that required tax rates to be adopted by elected, not appointed bodies, according to Tooele County Attorney Doug Hogan.
“We thought we took care of that requirement when we changed the fire district board to an elected board in 2012,” he said. “But then the state tax commission told us that special districts still need to have the county commission approve a tax increase over the certified rate. Local districts have more autonomy and don’t require county commission approval for tax rates.”
Some residents who live in the fire district and attended Tuesday’s commission meeting expressed concern that they needed the commission to provide a check and balance on the fire district board.
“When it was unchecked tax increases kept coming, one after the other after the other,” said Jeff McNeill, Erda resident. “We need to keep that check of the county commission.”
Others were concerned about the objectivity of the NTCFD board, which has been comprised in the past of current and past firefighters.
Willden pointed out that the current elected NTCFD board has three members who have never been and are not currently otherwise affiliated with the NTCFD.
The county commission approved the start of the process to convert the NTCFD from a special district to a local district with taxing authority.
The process requires the county commission to publicize and hold a public hearing followed by a 15-day period when they accept written comments before voting on the change.
The public hearing will be held as part of the county commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 15.
The NTCFD has a 2013 budget of $1.1 million. The district covers 1,700 square-miles of unincorporated north Tooele County, including Lake Point, Stansbury Park, Erda, Pine Canyon and the I-80 corridor.