County passes budget for Rockville-Springdale fire district, ponders future options

In this file photo, Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox (left) and fellow commissioners Zach Renstrom and Victor Iverson (not pictured) listen to concerns from Rockville-Springdale Fire Chief Ryan Ballard (right) about the commission's questions how facets of the fire district are run. and if they can't be done in a more cost-effective manner, St. George, Utah, Dec. 5, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE After revoking the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District’s ability to pass its proposed 2018 budget earlier this month due to concerns over large hikes in property taxes and fees, the Washington County Commission passed a budget for the fire district it found much more palatable.

The original budget had been proposed for $1.3 million and would have increased property taxes by an estimated 261.5 percent while standby fees would rise by around 74 percent. The proposed increases did not sit well with the commissioners who subsequently shot them down.

Instead, the County Commission revoked the fire district board’s budget authority and passed a 2018 budget Tuesday of around $943,185 for the Rockville-Springdale Fire District. The next year’s budget is largely based on an amended version of the original 2017 budget that retains a bump in pay to $13 an hour for district firefighters.

Read more: County revokes fire district’s budget authority over requested property tax hike

The pay increase tagged an additional $86,000 on to the original 2017 budget that was taken from the fire district’s financial reserves. The raise was seen as a way to help better compensate the district’s firefighters while also retaining them.

The proposed budget that had been scrapped by commissioners had proposed raising pay to $16 an hour.

Like other rural fire districts, the Rockville-Springdale has experienced a drop in volunteer firefighters, Commissioner Dean Cox said Tuesday. New volunteers can be hard to come by due to changing population demographics and other factors, he said.

This issue has led to the former fire districts and departments in the county that heavily relied on volunteers to merge with the Hurricane Valley Fire District, which afforded them greater access to manpower and resources, Cox said.

Toquerville joined Hurricane Valley Fire last year as the newest addition to a fire service that encompasses Hurricane, Leeds, LaVerkin, Dixie Springs, Virgin and Kolob, he said.

This gives the Hurricane Valley Fire District about 40,000 residents to draw from for property taxes and fees, providing for an annual budget of around $2.6 million.

The original Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District 2018 budget was half of the Hurricane Valley Fire District’s budget, and was primarily drawing its increased funding and resources from 800 residents and business owners via the proposed tax and fee hikes. A large part of the taxes and fees were also placed on business owners within the district.

According to figures provided by the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District, an example of the tax on a residence valued at $356,967 would go from $38.28 per year to $138.28. A business valued at the same amount would see its annual rate jump from $69.61 to $251.54.

Some property owners in the fire district are already paying around $300 a year in standby fees and faced the possibility of having that double under the proposed budget, Cox said during the commission’s Dec. 5 meeting.

The commission was not comfortable approving that much of a tax increase on that small an area,” he said Tuesday.

Passing the next year’s budget has provided both the fire district and the County Commission some breathing room. State law required a budget be passed before year’s end, yet there are still budgetary issues to be addressed moving forward.

Commissioners want to look at ways that services provided by the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District can be done in a more cost-effective manner.

Cox said ways this might be done is through the fire district contracting with the Hurricane Valley Fire District for additional service, or possibly even merging with it as other fire districts had.

“They really can’t exist by themselves,” Cox said of the former fire districts.

The idea of merging the Hurricane Valley and Rockville-Springdale fire district isn’t a new idea, as Hurricane Valley Fire officials proposed looking at the feasibility of a merger in late 2014.

Read more: Hurricane, Rockville-Springdale Fire districts discuss merging

Luci Francis, chairwman of the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District board, declined to comment on what the future may hold for the fire district, though she did say she “hopes the current and excellent service” that residents enjoy will continue uninterrupted.

The Rockville-Springdale area has an insurance service office, or ISO, rating of 3 for fire service, Francis said, noting that the lower the number the better. Not many rural fire districts have a rating that good, she said, adding that she hopes it won’t change as the county addresses the fire district’s financial needs.

A few meetings between the County Commission, fire district board and area residents have already been held, with another tentatively scheduled for early January in Springdale.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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