City Council Votes to Leave Unified Fire Authority
Assistant Chief Michael Kelsey addresses the city council, asking them not to leave the United Fire Authority. —Kelly Cannon
Despite multiple residents voicing their opposition, the Draper City Council voted to begin the process of leaving Unified Fire Authority (UFA) within 12 months. The controversial decision was reached during the Aug. 16 city council meeting with a vote of four to one, with Council member Michele Weeks being the only opposed vote.
During public comment, members of UFA and residents of Draper asked the council to reconsider or delay the vote in order for both UFA and Draper to begin negotiations. Jeremy Robertson, president of the Salt Lake County International Association of Firefighters, addressed the council as a representative of UFA.
“We make no mistake. We understand this is a council decision. We understand that you will make a decision collectively for the citizens of Draper and that it is our obligation as your fire department to present a quality product at a reasonable price that the citizens can afford. We’re committed to that,” Robertson said.
Robertson called out the council, stating there were inaccuracies in the presentation, including how much firefighters are paid.
“We are willing to provide those numbers. We were shocked to see this presentation released after 5 p.m. last Friday evening. We feel we need time to respond,” Robertson said. “My plea is that you don’t serve us with an eviction notice 12 months ahead.”
Assistant Chief and Liason to Draper Mike Kelsey also addressed the council, highlighting the work of the UFA including fighting a fire in the Draper foothills earlier this month that saved 39 homes.
“We’ve worked with you as a city for the past 20 years,” Kelsey said. “Most of the firefighters who are at the stations have been here a long time. They are very familiar with Draper. They are veteran firefighters. They’re awesome at the job they do.”
Kelsey asked the council for the opportunity to sit down and work through the discrepancies and issues the city has with UFA.
Weeks voiced concern over the city’s ability to create its own fire department in just a year’s time, citing wildland fires as a major concern. The fire earlier this month was the third fire that has threatened her home. Weeks attempted to delay the vote for six months in order for both sides to come together to discuss their options, but the proposal failed to gain traction with the other members of the council.
“We shouldn’t give UFA divorce papers before going to counseling,” Weeks said.
The other members of the council explained their reason for wanting to leave UFA is that now it gives the city an advantage when it comes to bargaining. Councilmember Jeff Stenquist said the decision has started the city on the path of whether they want to stay in or out.
“It’s time to be very clear that we’re looking at our options,” Stenquist said.
Councilmember William Rappleye also emphasized the decision was not a definite end but rather a beginning of negotiations.
“Your cards are on the table. Our cards are on the table,” Rappleye said. “This opens us up where we can have real conversations about real issues and get solutions to those (issues).”
Draper has been a member of UFA since 2004. As a member of UFA, residents in the service area are charged a separate property tax for use of the fire services. In order to offset the cost to the residents, the city receives a smaller amount of property tax, rather than charging the full taxable amount.
During the city council meeting, City Manager David Dobbins presented the council with three options. The first option was to stay with the UFA. The second option is to join the Unified Fire Service Area (UFSA). This would result in a rise in property tax for residents. The third option would be to create the city’s own fire department.
“The costs in the first year, if we had to purchase all of our own equipment, would be $3.6 million. Going on for the next year, it would be $5.1 (million) and the next year would be $5.2 (million),” Dobbins said.
Dobbins went on to explain the overall cost of staying with UFA would be $4.95 million while joining UFSA would be $8 million. The cost for having the city’s own fire department would be $5.2 million.