Guest Editorial, December 17-20, 2011
December 17, 2011
Since last spring the fire district budget has seen many changes. Many questions have been asked of the fire administrators and the Fire District board as to what budget is actually necessary to provide fire service to Wasatch County. Throughout this process many modifications of the budget have been made. Now, on the eve of the 2012 budget approval, many questions remain unanswered and many more questions need to be considered. These questions involve the Fire District board and the Fire Department.
For the Fire District Board: How are funds actually being used from the fire budget? Have monies from mortgaging the Jordanelle Fire Station been used to manage the Fire Department or have they been used to augment other projects in Wasatch County? Why are the fire district reserves so large? It is estimated that the reserve account is presently between $3 million and $6 million. What is the actual amount?
Reserve accounts are typically set to handle funding a governmental department for 90-120 days. The current reserve account should be enough to fund the fire department for many years. With such a large reserve account, how long have the residents of Wasatch County been overtaxed to amass such a large reserve fund? The existence of such a large reserve raises the issue of whether the fire district is being mismanaged and causes us to suspect that the other line items of the Fire Budget need further review and independent analysis and audit. Now that the Jordanelle Special Assessment Area no longer exists, why did the Fire District Board find it necessary immediately to pay the $1.2 million mortgage on the Jordanelle Fire Station? Why did such a mortgage even exist given the excessive reserves? Why was it commingled with Wasatch County assets?
For the Fire Department: Why are the part-time firefighters compensated beyond their annual stipend of $8,400 per year? What duties do they have other than being firefighters? Why are all the firefighters in the county, including those from the Jordanelle station, required to show up at every fire/EMS-related call? As for the full-time fire administrators, why is the fire chief being paid in the top ten percentile for fire chiefs in the entire nation? Why is a secretary for the fire district being paid proportionately higher than other secretaries with similar duties? Why aren’t the salaries and benefits for fire employees set pursuant to the same pay scale as the rest of the county? Why aren’t fire services managed by the county manager or an independent fire board? We hope that there won’t be another dime spent on litigation with taxpayers or on outside legal counsel in 2012.
This pattern of past conduct of over-padding the fire budget is well worth an explanation from both the Wasatch County Council and our fire administrators. As taxpayers in Wasatch County we respectfully ask to have a specific explanation of how the money in the fire district’s budget is being spent. The brief line item descriptions for the budget lack clarity to advise the taxpayers properly and fully of what they are being asked to fund. The Wasatch County Council budget approval meeting is December 21 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. It is important that these and many other questions are answered by council prior to approving the proposed budgets of Wasatch County for 2012.