Helper Council supports new public safety service district
Helper's City Council has become the first in Carbon County to agree that a county-wide special service district for emergency services is an idea worth exploring.
The district - which the county commission favors unanimously - would be a way to finance big-ticket investments in fire, hazmat and ambulance equipment. At a special meeting June 22, commissioners explained the reasoning behind the proposal and asked the five cities and Scofield Township to let them know if there is any interest.
In a nutshell, the case for the special service is:
The cities and county government would band together to form the special district that would have taxing authority and the ability to apply for grants and loans;
Each participating local government would have a voting representative on the district board;
The cities would present their projected needs to this board, which would be the agency that would supply funds and apply for grants and loans for major purchases.
"I've been an advocate of it for years," commented commissioner Mike Milovich. "We are one of two counties in the state that don't have one. Eventually it will have to happen here."
Equipment is expensive
The reason for that eventuality, he explained, is that ambulances and fire engines are getting more and more expensive, on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Small towns with small budgets are finding it tough to replace their public safety equipment.
Commissioner Jae Potter noted that a single, unified taxing district would probably be in a better position to apply and secure grants and loans from funding agencies such as the Community Impact Board. In other words, instead of having five cities competing with one another for funding for capital equipment, there would be only one applicant.
John Jones, the third member of the commission, stated that this is not a power grab by the county government. "The last thing we want is your authority," he told representatives of Helper, Wellington and Price. Jones said the district would probably make overall public safety more efficient by reducing unnecessary duplication of expensive equipment.
The special service district would not assume ownership of existing fire and rescue trucks, but it would be the buyer and owner of new equipment. The cities would lease the equipment and be responsible for routine maintenance.
That concept caused Wellington Councilman Marvon Willson to note, "In ten years, that means the district will own everything. What will happen then?"
That will be up to the board, replied Jones, "and you guys will be the board."
At Thursday's Helper council meeting Mayor Dean Armstrong and Councilman Gary Harwood, who had attended the commission briefing, told their colleagues what the commission's plan was about.
While there were some misgivings about the fate of the city's independence in fire and rescue services, Armstrong said the cities, including Helper, backed out of the opportunity to join the Recreation/Transportation Special Service District years ago. As as result, that district is now run by an appointed board with only one elected official - a county commissioner who sits ex officio on the board. The district board decides how millions of dollars in mineral lease funds are disbursed and cities looking for funds have to convince the board that whatever project they want will benefit the entire county.
By agreeing to join the district, Helper will get a seat at the table when the time comes to make decisions on how it will be organized and run, Armstrong said. "We've seen what happens when we don't show up," he concluded.