The Jordanelle Fire Station
|Back in the 90s, shortly after the Jordanelle dam was built, property owners in the area began the process of master planning the whole area around the reservoir. Developers and land owners quickly realized they would need local fire protection. Volunteer fireman responding from the Heber City station could not generally, get there quick enough to meet fire code requirements. So, Jordanelle property owners asked Wasatch County fire district to build and staff a full time station in the basin. They also agreed to pay for all of it. Assurances were made that costs associated with the station would be totally financed by Jordanelle property owners and not passed on to the rest of the district. Full Time versus Volunteer Fire Service
For over 100 years, Wasatch County has had a volunteer fire service. Presently, we have around 30 such men and women who serve the area. They are paid a small monthly stipend to be available to fight fires anytime they are needed.
Emergency ambulance service is provided by another group of about 30 or so EMTs who are paid based on the time they spend on a call. There are several cross trained members who run with both entities. Both are very very good at what they do. We receive some of the best EMS and fire services anywhere for a community of our size. They are both headquartered out of the Emergency Services building located in Heber. We also have satellite stations with equipment in Midway and Wallsburg with another on the drawing board for Timberlakes.
Jordanelle’s station is full time meaning they are staffed by, at least, 3 full time firemen at all times. They respond to both fire and medical calls in the basin and as backup to the valley floor. Jordanelle staff is backed up by staff from EMS and volunteer firemen from the lower valley whenever they are on a call. The station was built and staffed as it is because the Jordanelle property owners requested and agreed to pay the additional cost over and about volunteer service.
An ERU or Equivalent Residential Unit is a measure of how many homes or living units over a certain size a development has. It is also consistent throughout the district and the only common element that can be used to compare a subdivisions impact for services like fire. This number is set by code. To begin the process, a land owner requests an ERU number for a given parcel of land based on what they think the land might carry and the type of development they want. They are assisted by planning staff all through the process to make sure they are following applicable codes. They then present plans before the planning commission who assigns an ERU number. The County Council reviews the same plans again to see if we agree. Considerations are given for roads, slope, open space, trails, view sheds and ridge tops, just to name a few. Once they receive that number, then the developer moves ahead with more detailed final plans, again with guidance from planning staff.
Funding the Jordanelle Station
Funding was arranged in two steps. First, a bond was obtained to build and equip the station. Bond payments were billed one of three ways. The developer could pay their share up front or make yearly or monthly payments, again per ERU.
Funding of operations was handled a little different. Because the amount needed would change from time to time as the district grew and each year’s budget was set, a special fee area was set up inside the Wasatch County Fire district. Again to be paid for equally by each benefitting ERU in the basin. It was agreed that the first station would be built where it is today. It was also agreed that, as the basin grew in population, subsequent stations would be build first along highway 32 and then another along 248, all to be financed by payments from developers and property owners around the stations.
“No good deed goes un punished”
This certainly applies here. The Fire District, in good faith, moved ahead with construction and other expenses needed to provide the requested full time fire protection to the area and now, some wish to get out or change the rules in the middle of the game. One of the developers sued contending that they didn’t have to pay their portion of the station due to the fact that they were not benefiting from it because they didn’t have houses to defend. It all came down to the use of the word “service charge” in the creation documents. A service charge, the judge contended, is a fee for some service rendered. If they didn’t have a house, they didn’t need fire protection therefore, they didn’t have to pay the “service charge”. Yet, the day a building is started, the district would be required to have fire protection in place. If the attorney creating the district would have used a different word than “service charge” in the creation document, things would probably be different. It is also obviously impractical to build the station a piece at a time as development expands or to think that open land would never needs fire protection. Wild land fires around developments can be some of the hardest and most expensive to fight. So, because the council disagreed with the judge’s decision, we appealed.
Also, as part of the law suit, the Fire District learned that we were required by law to review and re-establish the fee every five years. We didn’t know that therefore, we had passed the five year limit without a review of the fee leaving another loop hole for some to escape paying their formerly agreed to obligations.
So where do we go from here???
As soon as we learned that the law suit had been lost, we divided the problem into the past and the future. As for the past, we appealed the decision and that process is still in the court. We also started the process required by law to review and re-establish the fee so we could continue operations. The process has a public component where those who will be required to pay the fee can protest. If the proposal by the District receives 50% oppositions, it cannot be implemented and the district is required to try another method. We are continuing that process. Our first proposal was withdrawn do to miscommunications, bad information and protests by affected landowners. The second proposal is running through the process now. We have had several public hearings and the protests are being counted. Statements have been made as to the number of protests submitted but, as of Monday morning (the 31st) the number was not official.
What I think.
Due to commitments made by landowners in the Jordanelle and promises made to tax payers in the rest of Wasatch County, if the station is to remain open, I think the council is obligated to re-establish the fee even if it is much smaller and services and expenses are drastically cut in the Jordanelle. To be fair to those who will eventually pay the bill, we must cut the Jordanelle budget as much as possible. Finances are very tight and many developers have gone out of business. Homeowners in the area are no better off. Until economic conditions improve, we need to cut back just as the county’s operating budget has been cut. That’s just how it is. Based on the success of those plans, we will probably have to do one of the following:
1. We can re-establish the fees and continue to operate the station at a reduced cost.
2. We can shut down full time service and use the station to stage equipment to be picked up as needed by responding volunteers.
3. We can end up somewhere in the middle.
I appreciate all the input from involved citizens on this matter. There are many who are reasonable, civil and want to help solve the problem. There are also others who are not flexible. It is the council’s obligation to make the best decision for the district. Because we represent you, we also need to hear from you, those who will be protected by this service. As always, if you have questions about this or any other part of county government, please give me a call. My cell phone is 801-420-6158 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you put something on the subject line to catch my attention. Have a nice day.
BY MIKE KOHLER