Wildfire funding could change
March 4, 2006
The Utah Legislature has provided some relief for Summit County taxpayers this year by restructuring how wildfire suppression is funded in the state.
Summit County commissioners claim they were getting gouged each year because counties that contribute money to the state’s wildland fire suppression fund do so based on property values.
Because the values of homes and land in Summit County are relatively high, when the county re-joined the fund about four years ago, local taxpayers began contributing about 20 percent of its proceeds, Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier said.
Since then, the County Commission has toyed with terminating the relationship and funding its own suppression costs. But Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, would exempt some property from the funding equation that has residential, commercial, or industrial development. Land not threatened by wildfire or where a fire is not likely to spread also would not be included in the assessment.
Thomas also works as the county’s chief civil attorney.
The Senate and House passed SB 65. According to Frazier, if Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signs the bill, the county’s annual premium would decrease from $320,000 to roughly $200,000.
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Republican Sen. Beverly Evans, who represents portions of Summit County, co-sponsored the bill. During the legislative session, Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme threatened to pull Summit County out of the fund unless the payments were adjusted.
"That’s going to help us a great deal," Woolstenhulme said Thursday. "We’ll probably stay in the fund now."
SB 65 treats Summit County more fairly by exempting urban neighborhoods in Snyderville from the funding equation, Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott said.
"The bulk of the formula is based on valuation in the unincorporated county," Frazier said recently. "What we are trying to do is say that the Snyderville Basin is like a city."
In 2002, membership in the fund saved the county roughly $1 million for the costs of fighting the East Fork Fire, which burned about 14,000 acres and was allegedly set by Boy Scouts in the Uinta Mountains.
"That’s the only year that we have benefited," Frazier said.