12-12-17 The Wasatch Fire District is having a public hearing on their TAX INCREASE for the 2018 budget. (Scroll down page to see recent GRAMA requsts for financial info) —- Public notice is hereby given that on December 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm, a public budget hearing for the Wasatch County Fire District will be held at the Wasatch County Administration Building, located at 25 N Main in Heber City, Utah. The purpose of the hearing is to adopt the 2018 calendar year budget for the Fire District. The District Board will also open the Wasatch County Fire District 2017 calendar year budget to allow for the adjustment of any additional revenue and expenses.
Here’s the WASATCH FIRE DISTRICT WEBSITE to review budgets.
The Jordanelle Assessment area will go away at the end of 2017, so that is why there is a consolidation of fire services for all property to now be under the Wasatch County Fire tax. The Jordanelle homeowners will no longer have that assessment area fee on the property tax bill. Here is the WASATCH FIRE ASSESSMENT AREA WEBPAGE to review history of lawsuits and protest payments by Jordanelle property owners.
Here are the: 2016 WFD & Assessment Area Salaries & Benefits
Please read both of our WTPA representative’s comments below, on the advisory board process and the tax increase in general: —“As the chair for the Wasatch County Fire Advisory Board, I’ve been asked for comment on the proposed fire tax increase which will be discussed at a public truth in taxation hearing on Tuesday, December 12, at 6 PM in the County Council chambers in the County building. Earlier this year I volunteered to serve on this board. I’m also a board member for the Wasatch Taxpayers Association (WTPA). I was selected to sit on the new board and serve as the chair probably because I am involved with WTPA.
You may remember the fire tax increase that was proposed in 2013, and the petition that was circulated by the WTPA opposing that increase because there was no explanation given by the district for the increase, nor was there a strategic plan in place to explain how new tax revenues would be spent. When asked for explanations, the Fire Board in place at that time did not respond. The petition collected more than the appropriate number of signatures to place the issue on a ballot election, but it turned out to be moot because the Fire Board was informed by the Utah Tax Commission that they approved the increase prior to the required public hearing. The Fire Board was restrained from levying the higher tax until the following year when the proper procedures could be followed. That new tax went into effect in 2014.
In the background of all this controversy, the district (WCFPD is a special service district covering all of Wasatch County residents, regardless of where you live) was besieged by litigation brought by residents of the Jordanelle Special Assessment area who claimed that they had been unfairly and perhaps illegally assessed for fire protection, above and beyond the amounts that other residents of the county were paying. That’s a very simplistic explanation of the complaint, but please don’t ask me to go into details. This has been going on for years, and it is impossible to explain succinctly. We can waste time by blaming certain parties, but the end result has been a huge financial and legal liability borne by the fire district for a situation that it did not initiate. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on legal fees means less personnel, equipment, and training for the people on the line doing the job of public safety that they are tasked with.
This year, the fire district board (with new County Council members in place) and Chief Giles instituted our advisory board to look into how the district can cope with the vast population growth, area of coverage and types of responses that are required by our emergency services. This all volunteer board is filled with fire and emergency professionals, both retired and still in the field, and a couple of well informed citizens to represent you. All of us own property in Wasatch County and either live here or plan to retire here. I’m the least experienced member of that advisory team, at least in the area of fire and emergency services, and I imagine that if I understand the situation, then I can explain it to you. What I’ve learned is that this is a very complicated situation that the advisory board is still learning about even after months of meetings and research. Let me boil it down to this: this tax increase is unavoidable, in my opinion.
After a decade of assessment fees, the district has decided to not renew the Jordanelle assessment area after this year. The residents of the assessment area have been paying twice—property tax for fire protection and also an additional fee assessed for fire protection. There were 2 lawsuits filed by some Jordanelle residents because of this double taxation. It can be argued that those residents had “better” fire protection, but the rest of the county benefitted by the extra assessment. Those of us in the rest of the county were getting a bargain by not paying the full cost for emergency services. Beginning in 2018, the cost of these services must be reallocated among all of Wasatch County properties—hence an increase for some and a reduction for others. My opinion is that this reallocation is long overdue and should have been done this way all along which would have avoided those lawsuits.
After looking into the current budget, the advisory board has recommended a $920,000 tax increase, but the majority of that amount ($640,000) was previously paid by the assessment area residents and businesses. So this amount will now be raised in the property taxes of all Wasatch County instead of an assessment of a smaller area. The increase is budgeted to hire 5 full time firefighter/EMTs and begin to purchase much needed equipment.
Please be advised, this tax increase will not be enough. The fire board is proposing to enter into a contract for a needs assessment and strategic plan for Wasatch County in January 2018 and have those results back by June. Advisory board members have great ideas about what could and should be done, but without a plan in place, we were reluctant to recommend any changes that could be heading in a wrong direction. With a plan adopted we can begin to build on what we currently have and develop to the point where we want to be—eventually. It will take time and money to make the changes we need to implement the full time, well trained, well equipped fire and emergency personnel and service that Wasatch County residents need, want, and deserve.
Understand that I’m the last person who would endorse a tax increase that wasn’t warranted and needed. Now is not the time to argue—that doesn’t mean that there won’t be massive scrutiny over how tax revenues are spent in the future. On the contrary, I think that we will have much more transparency and accountability once we have the proper plan in place to get us where we need to go. We are now on that track, which is exactly what WTPA asked for when the petition was circulated so long ago.”
Here’s another one of our WTPA citizen advisory board member’s comments:
“I agreed to collect petition signatures in 2013 for a couple of major reasons. First, I felt that regardless of the history of the Jordanelle Fire Station, it was wrong to create a situation where one group of county residents were paying for basically two fire departments even though there was only one. This stuck me as a contrivance to benefit some wealthy developers but it led to an unfair burden on the one area of the county that pays something close to 65% of all property taxes to begin with. I recognize that I personally benefited from a lower tax as a result of this arrangement. This financial scheme produced an additional $640,000 in revenue but the terms of that agreement expire year end 2017 which leaves a huge budget hole that if not filled, will result in a significant reduction in serves, a likely worsening of the ISO score countywide leading to many of us having to pay more for homeowner’s insurance.
This arrangement led to my observation that our fire department had become a jobs program for lawyers as several lawsuits had been filed in protest. These lawsuits are either being settled or tamped down to where legal expenses have been all but eliminated.
The advisory board has spent a lot of time on the tax increase. Chief Giles has worked hard to develop a pro forma budget that reflects both covering the loss of revenue from the Jordanelle Special Assessment Area and increased needs, largely in support of the burgeoning EMS workload.
Another longer term problem is that EMS and Fire are separately financed. The fire district is funded by the tax before us. EMS is funded out of county revenues. This needs a long term fix but short term, we need to recognize that all future EMS hires should be Fire/EMS personnel. A full time Fire/EMS individual can respond to a fire or a bee sting, but an EMS only can’t put out a kitchen fire. So, in this budget, the additonal personnel will be Fire/EMS but the expected workload will likely be more EMS calls than fire.
As might be said, much done but more to do. We are just now reviewing proposals for a needs assessment. One of the main purposes of this work is to apply experts to examine how to best move forward with both EMS and Fire including organizational proposals to place the current structure before the elected officials for action.”
We want to thank both our WTPA advisory board representatives for taking on this issue and ensuring the taxpayers of Wasatch County have a voice in the future professionalism and fiscal responsibility of our Fire District. We will be updating you periodically when new information is received. This will be a multi-year process, so WTPA hopes to be a part of this consolidated fire district effort far into the future.
Please join our efforts, we want to hear your opinions on how to move forward.
Wasatch Taxpayers Association appreciates any, and all, donations to further the cause of transparency and accountability in Wasatch County. Please take a moment and help this ALL volunteer group. Donate tab above. Or join us today for a yearly membership. Thank You!
2-8-17 – Wasatch County Council had a work meeting discussion with the building and fire departments on fire code and their different jobs. New construction inspections were done between both departments, and the council felt the need to improve the process. *****Video Recordings go to: Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire District also had a discussion about their concerns about recent council decisions. A lot of the conversation was on fire sprinklers vs. upgraded building code, water pressure at fire hydrants and nearby tank pressure during a fire call. ****See their discussion here: Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
TRANSPARENT.UTAH.GOV WEBSITE to search for Wasatch Fire District financial information (Click on different categories to search info) All below financial info is from Transparent.Utah.gov. 4-26-16 GRAMA request- See the majority of GRAMA questions answered here: GRAMA request- WCFD questions 4-2016 WC Fire District- 2016 Budget Wasatch Co Fire 2015 budget (includes Jordanelle Assessment Area budget) *** Wasatch Co Fire District salaries 2015 (you may have to download to your computer first to read) Wasatch Co Fire District benefits 2015 Wasatch Co Fire District PAID LEAVE 2015 ISO report 2015-Wasatch Co. Fire (completed June 2015 and just released now)
**Jordanelle Assessment Area info gleaned from email exchange with grama officer: “We billed in 2015 the amount showing on the budget and have collected all but $58.622.27 which is approximately 80% collection of $340,000.00 billed. ” We have requested, and are still waiting for, documents that show this info.
*** ALL this financial info was filed under the Wasatch FIRE District on the Transparent.Utah.gov website. Jordanelle Assessment Fund salaries 2015 (you may have to download to your computer first to read) WCFD- Jordanelle salaries and benes 2015 (different than above salaries?) Jordanelle Assess Fund expenses 2015 Jordanelle Assess Fund revenues 2015 WCFD- Jordanelle contingency fund 2015 WCFD- Jordanelle legal Ballard Spahr 2015 WCFD- Jordanelle legal Non-App 2015
A portion of GRAMA denied- GRAMA DENIAL- Jordanelle Assessment Area 4-2016 Asking for Assessment Area collected assessments. GRAMA officer replied, ” I spoke with legal as well as the Ombudsman for the State Archive Office and they advised that I can provide to you a list of customers who were billed but it is an invasion of privacy to ask how much each customer was billed and if they have paid or not. If you would like me to send you the list of customer names I do have a customer list from our Government Accounting System that I would be more than happy to provide for you.” Here’s the customer list: Jordanelle Assessment Area property list 2016
**Wasatch Co. Fire District portion of GRAMA: GRAMA request- WCFD questions 4-2016 We asked about merit pay (#4 on GRAMA questions document) which they said they have not implimented. It is required STATE LAW : Merit System UTAH State Code
We asked for all grants that were applied for and received: WC Fire District- HOMELAND SECURITY GRANTS WC Fire District- LEPC Grants WC Fire District- WILDLAND FIRE GRANTS Wasatch Co. Fire District info gleaned from email exchange with grama officer: Your question about “capitalized equipment” purchased since 2012- “We made two purchases for capital projects. 1. December 17, 2013 to LN Curtis purchasing 3 Spirian air packs in the amount of $19,566.00 2. October 15, 2012 to Wasatch Property Maintenance for the parking lot seal at the Jordanelle Fire Station for $6000.00″
Listen to a short explanation of out of control taxing districts like the Wasatch Fire District by the CATO INSTITUTE.
2014 FIRE DISTRICT budget 76.69% INCREASE passed on DECEMBER 18, 2013 2013 Fire District Proposed Tax Increase
*****Watch decision here: 2 videos- Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
*****audio- WC & WCFD- Dec 18th, 2013 1:56:00 starts the Fire District continuation of public hearing. 2:27:00 is the 2014 Tax Increase VOTE by Fire Board.
REPORT ON PUBLIC HEARING —Date/Time: 12/5/2013 6:00 p.m. Location: Wasatch County, Senior Citizen Center, 465 East 1200 South, Heber City, Utah
*****Video Recordings of public comment- go to Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
*****ALSO, Full budget from Jan- October 2013 to get an idea of projections for 2014 budget. WCFD 2013 GENERAL LEDGER DETAIL -posted here 12/3/13
This report is detail through October. November has not been updated and won’t be until bank statements etc. are in and Dec is still ongoing. The budget for 2014 was based on actual Jan through Oct and projected through Dec. revenues are down because tax money does not come from the county until it has been collected.
—“Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions. If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? And who will deliver them?” -BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
There was a development since the successful delivery of the referendum petition on Oct. 3, 2013. Since the UTAH TAX COMMISSION sent the Wasatch County Fire District a letter stating they did not follow proper procedure, the Fire District finally admited that they did not follow proper procedure in Nov 2012, when they first started the tax increase process for the 2013 budget. They must start the whole process over.
The Wasatch Taxpayers Association sent a follow up letter to the Wasatch Fire Board to try and work together to resolve the county’s fire budget issues. The fire board never answered all the questions asked by the public in August. We wanted answers before the next truth and taxation public meeting for the 2014 fire budget in December 2013.
Here’s our letter to the fire board and Chairman Capson’s response to our request:
***Watch the video of Fire Board Chair Steve Capson’s explanation- Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page The board passed the resolution 13-15 adopting the state certified tax rate of .000244. Mr. Capson discussed working with Chief Ernie Giles on the Fire District budget for 2014. They will let the budget dictate how much of a tax increase to move forward with in 2014. The Truth in Taxation hearing to begin again in December 2013.
***Here’s the letter sent by the Utah Tax Commission on Sept. 24, 2013 to the Wasatch County explaining their flawed tax increase process- Utah Tax Com Letter to Wasatch.
And the subsequent letter to the petition sponsors.Clerk’s office- petition invalid-10-11-13
10-3-13- The citizens turned in 2156+ signatures for the referendum petition to the county!! This stops the tax increase and to put it on the Nov. 2014 ballot for the voters to decide! They needed 1458 signatures in 45 days from Aug 21st, when the council voted.
THIS IS WHAT THE REFERENDUM PETITION SAYS: We, the undersigned citizens of Utah, respectfully order that Resolution No.13-10, entitled Resolution 2013-10 Adopting Final Tax Rates and Budgets passed by the Wasatch County Fire Protection Special Service District Governing Board be referred to the voters for their approval or rejection at the regular general election to be held on November 2014.
See the County Fire calls for 2012-WCFD-analysis of 2012 calls (right click on doc to rotate)
-Wasatch Fire District Aug. 7th truth in taxation meeting for 78.6% tax increase recordings: Fire Chief’s Presentation- Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
Citizen’s public input- Wasatch Taxpayers YouTube page
-The Wasatch Fire District asked citizens to return to the Aug 21st meeting to get all their questions answered. None were answered, and the Board unanimously passed the 78.6% tax increase.
For more Fire District info go to this page: Jordanelle
This website is for educational purposes only, unless it is specifically stated that WTPA has a stance on a specific issue. To the best of our knowledge this is correct information, but we welcome corrections if errors are found.