Bill establishes get-rescued-free card program
For $25 per year Utah’s backcountry enthusiasts may soon be able to buy a get-rescued-free card. For $10 more, the whole family is included.
In July, the Utah Legislature plans to establish a program to help fund local search and rescue groups throughout the state through a voluntary card program.
Sponsored by Rep. Sophia DiCaro (R- West Valley City), HB 324 exempt card holders from being billed for the costs of their rescues.
The bill unanimously passed out of both the House of Representatives and the Senate at nearly 11:30 p.m. on the last day of the session. It is currently awaiting Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature.
"Over the years, there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of funding to cover some of these major costs that are incurred," DiCaro said. "The goal is tie the cost back to the original user. It’s not just the anglers, the fishing and the hunting people who are getting rescued. It is the hikers, the bikers, and the snowmobilers who are getting rescued and they are the people who are driving up the costs and yet they are not contributing anything to the funds.
"This is a creative way to tie it back to the user but to make it voluntary so you can generate some interest and not make it a mandate," she added. "The goal is to raise additional revenues without having to increase fees."
If a search and rescue team is deployed, the costs associated with the rescue are reimbursed by the state through the Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Program. The program, established in 1997, is funded through recreation licenses, such as fishing and hunting licenses.
According to Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, all 29 Utah counties also have the option of billing people who are rescued. If a SAR team is deployed on a medical assist, the costs incurred are approximately $200. But if a helicopter is involved, the rate starts at $1,000 an hour.
"But back charging is time consuming and not a priority for the county sheriffs," Petersen said in an email to The Park Record. " purchasing this card, the cardholder and his/her family, assuming a family pass was purchased, will be exempt."
The program, which will be managed by the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, will offer annual passes for individuals for $25 and families for $35.
"I’m banking on the fact that the recreation community will embrace this program, thus alleviating the need for counties to back charge," Petersen said. "The first year anticipated revenue from this program was targeted at $10,000. I would like to see our first year bring in $30,000 or more which is 1,000 cards."
Petersen said a similar program in Colorado nets more than $80,000 annually.
"I don’t intend on being rescued anytime soon, but I enjoy knowing that Sheriff White in Moab has enough funding to be well equipped and well trained," he said. "Everyone, especially in Summit County, ends up in Moab. This is just really the best way for those of us who are all over the state using these assets to support the local economy."
Unlike many search-and-rescue teams throughout Utah, Summit County’s Search and Rescue team operates on a budget that is set by the Summit County Council and supports a 45-member team.
"Summit County is very, very fortunate in that," Summit County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue liaison Alan Siddoway. "A lot of search and rescues are totally dependent on fundraisers for their funding."
Summit County Search and Rescue operates on an annual budget of approximately $76,000 from the county, in addition to funds from an in-house trust. Fundraisers and donations are the main funding sources for that trust.
Last year, Summit County SAR received $20,000 for reimbursement costs from the Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Program, Siddoway said, adding Summit County "doesn’t typically" bill people who have called for assistance.
"This program would benefit all the search and rescues, but particularly those that are not as fortunate," he said. "The members, they are never reimbursed. They always donate their time and for us, we try and get them the best equipment and the best training so we can keep them as safe as possible and equip them the best we can.
"If its well received and well supported by the populace, I think it will directly benefit search and rescue in the state of Utah," Siddoway said.
For more information on this bill, go to http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/HB0324.html .
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.