Tooele County leaders seek the opinions of residents living in Stockton, Rush Valley, Vernon, Terra and surrounding areas about the future of fire protection, and whether they would support creating a new fire district to cover those areas.
Dan Walton, Chief Fire Warden of Tooele County, provided a link to the fire district survey that can be found here.
Walton said the County hired a consulting group to conduct a Fire Funding and Governance Analysis for areas outside of the North Tooele Fire District to see if it is feasible to propose a second fire district in Tooele County.
North Tooele Fire District is the County’s lone fire district and covers a vast area of Erda, Stansbury, Lake Point, Pine Canyon, out to Hickman Canyon, north end of Skull Valley and I-80 out to milepost 56. It is funded through the state as a special service district. Tooele and Gransville operate their own fire departments.
“One advantage of a second fire district would be unifying all of the mutual aid partners that Tooele County relies on to provide fire services to the unincorporated private lands outside of the North Tooele Fire District,” Walton said.
“These departments rely on volunteerism which has seen a decline in personnel numbers and depleting revenue sources. Both of these diminish their ability to operate. A new fire district will bring in additional revenue and will allow for all municipal fire departments to report to one Fire District Board and operate under one set of Standard Operating Guidelines,” he said.
The survey includes 11 questions.
Question No. 10 asks: In order to form a Fire District in Tooele County for the communities of Rush Valley, Stockton, Terra, Vernon, Wendover and Unincorporated areas surrounding these communities, voters will need to approve both the formation of the Fire District and a property tax increase of $15 to $17 per month. How Likely are you to support such a ballot initiative?
The consulting group has been evaluating the day to day operations, equipment and funding of each of the potential affected fire departments and areas.
“It is no secret that the majority of fire related calls occur outside of municipality borders on unincorporated lands that are currently not being taxed for fire services. These unincorporated lands are seeing a steady rate of growth — residential and industrial — that is putting additional workload on our mutual aid partners,” Walton said.
The consulting group has assessed a five year history of where fire calls have been occurring, and what tax base is available in that area, he said.
“We had them break up the information into the assigned response zones so that we can expand or contract a proposed district boundary as it makes sense to do so. The final report of the study will be available to the public in the coming days,” Walton said.
He said the act of gathering and evaluating information is a very important step toward a greater understanding for fire professionals in the county.
“We have a common goal of providing fire protection services to the public and currently all fire departments in Tooele County work very well together. Unifying the more rural fire departments would be significantly beneficial toward further development and growth,” Walton said.
“I am excited to see the results of the study and hopeful that the information will show multiple benefits to proposing a fire district. It will be interesting to see, based on the data, what municipal departments decide to opt in or out of a proposal. This opportunity has potential to reshape and better support the fire service in Tooele County for decades to come.”
The real push to get the study started last fall came from the Tooele County Fire Chiefs Association.
“One of the most interested municipal departments in the study is Stockton,” Walton said.
“They are the initial mutual aid resource in providing fire protection services for such communities as South Rim and Ophir, and are seeing a large increase in the number of fire related calls each year.”
The Stockton Fire Department also does not receive any taxes to help with fire protection.
Tooele County, who provides funding contributions to keep these rural fire departments afloat, does not specifically tax for fire services.
“The amount of funding that the County can provide is unfortunately limited. Creating a fire district will create a separate funding source specifically for the new district and will hopefully solve a lot of the funding, staffing, and equipment replacement issues that are currently plaguing our mutual aid partners.”