Plans to form a public safety service district between sister cities in East Carbon and Sunnyside continue to move forward, as local officials have now selected a six-member governing board for the proposed body. The district would bring together the fire and ambulance services of both cities because rising costs for equipment and tighter qualifications for grant funding have made collaboration a must.
Outside the communities, others are watching their effort to see if it could lead to a much larger union.
"One thing a special district does provide is the ability to put a specific tax assessment on the area which would be directly payable to public safety," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, who had been approached by the cities concerning the best way to form the body. "I think this district is a great deal for both cities as the ambulance service in Sunnyside does need additional funding."
According to Milovich, Sunnyside officials have approached the county for several years seeking funds to subsidize the costs associated with operating an ambulance service based in the eastern portion of the county.
"Equipment has become far too expensive for many small cities," explained Milovich. The commissioner reported that the cost of vehicles used for fire and public safety has more than doubled since the county was last able to buy trucks for the cities in the 1980s.
"It can cost between $300,000 and $600,000 to replace a fire truck and the normal tax base simply does not provide enough revenue to pay the tab for a purchase of that size," Milovich said. "The issues then tends to be that citizens are apprehensive about any new tax."
The major jump in cost from trucks that used to cost around $80,000 comes from the fact that continually changing regulations have now made features like enclosed cabs which house five firefighters mandatory. Fire trucks must also hold and disperse a certain amount of water to pass annual insurance inspections. It means higher insurance rates if a local city cannot afford equipment which is up to snuff.
This major inflation in cost is not exclusive to fire equipment. According to the commissioner, ambulance and police vehicles have also nearly doubled in cost over the past 20 years as the need for new technology has increased both safety and price.
Milovich stated that he would like to see local cities use their general fund revenues for projects like infrastructure replacement and annual operation and maintenance rather than having to break the bank or depend completely on grant funding for their public safety equipment.
"Most communities already have a special service district which addresses and funds public safety and I would like to see a special service district which is county wide. That way the smaller communities Carbon County would be able to remain current and not go broke trying to keep their people safe," said the commissioner. "The fight is that nobody wants to be taxed more and county wide there could be some issues with everybody getting along."
According to Milovich, the only way a district would work would be through total cooperation between the communities which comprise the whole. If one city decided not to participate, the district would not work, especially if it happened to be one of the larger communities which decided to abstain.
To demonstrate his point, Milovich discussed the fact that the county is currently discussing a new jail complex due to overcrowding. According to the commissioner, local attorneys are already working to demonstrate that their clients are not safe in an environment which is overpopulated. However, local officials would be looking three times the cost of the current facility to erect a new jail, an act which is typically not all that popular with tax payers. The creation of a district would provide a revenue stream via mill levy for projects like the building of a new county jail.
"Do I think a county wide district is going to happen here? Yes, we need the revenue. However, when it will happen is going to largely depend on the appetite of the local electorate," concluded Milovich.