Wasatch County taxpayers: Make sure you’re getting what you pay for
Ryan Summerlin December 12, 2012
My husband and I purchased our home in the Jordanelle area of Wasatch County nine years ago. We were informed that we would be paying for fire and water bonds to the county. We paid these extra fees for the next six years until they reached their 10-year maturity date.
What we didn’t know was that the county was going to charge the Jordanelle residents and landowners with the entire cost of operating and maintenance of the fire station located in this area for perpetuity.
A little history, which we subsequently discovered, is that the Jordanelle Fire Station was completely paid for by the developers of Deer Crest back in 1998 and 1999. They paid for the building to be constructed, the equipment, the entire set-up of this station and everything required to assure that it was functioning properly. Wasatch County hired nine full-time firefighters (all relatives and/or friends of the Wasatch County Council or existing fire fighters). No merit system was used in the hiring process; in fact there is no merit system established for hiring and promoting employees in Wasatch County government. The fire chief, (the highest-paid fire chief for this size operation in the nation), the fire marshal, the fire warden, assistant fire chief, fire secretary, etc., all of whose salaries the Jordanelle residents/landowners have been paying for. This equates to an excessive additional tax for this fire service along with our property fire taxes that everyone in Wasatch County pays. Double taxation!
About 1½ years ago, some of the landowners decided they had had enough. They sued the Jordanelle Special Service Fire District for inequitable assessment practices and won! (The county is currently appealing this case.) Because of this suit, we discovered that the county should have reviewed the assessment methods used here some seven years ago. But they failed to do that and subsequently have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the county. This legal fee was specifically included in the budget for the Jordanelle residents to pay.
During this period, the fire district has tried three times to create a new assessment area for fire service around the Jordanelle. All of which is an additional tax for fire service to be paid for by the Jordanelle residents and landowners. The first two efforts were defeated, but the county was still not listening. They hired a financial consultant to devise a way to create a new assessment, one that would be virtually impossible for the residents and landowners to protest. This cost an additional $70,000+ to the fire budget!
I have attended many Wasatch County Council meetings and fire district meetings and never has even one councilman expressed any thanks to the Deer Crest developers and the Jordanelle residents/landowners for completely subsidizing all the fire service provided out of this station. This county has had the use of this beautiful facility for almost 13 years initially mortgage-free to the county! The county has mortgaged the fire station twice to generate money for the county. We would like to know what the money was used for because we kept seeing mortgage payments we paid for.
This station serves the Heber Valley much more than it ever has the Jordanelle area. A review of the 2011 fire call history informs us that this Jordanelle Fire Station responds much more to the Heber Valley and handling calls for service that are Wasatch County Fire District’s responsibility and not the responsibility of the former Jordanelle Special Service District. This accounts for 64% of all the calls Wasatch County responded to in 2011.
On December 27, 2012, Wasatch County Fire District will be holding a public hearing for increasing taxes to all property owners of Wasatch County for fire service. It is important for you to analyze the 2013 fire budget and determine if the budget request from the fire district is in line with the needs of Wasatch County. We have had to accept the very expensive budget for well over a decade without being able to have any say in the budgeting process. We would be happy to assist you in determining the actual needs of the Wasatch County Fire District so you don’t have to experience an excessive budget as we have.