Sure enough: Payson got a smoking deal on a new fire station.
Now all the cash-strapped town has to do is find a way to staff it.
But in the meantime, the town will likely provide local contractors with their first big project in a year, by passing up three lower bids to award the $1.25 million contract to Amon Builders.
Public Works Director LaRon Garrett recommended awarding the contract to the local firm because the three lower bids were “incomplete.”
Ju-rell Construction bid $1,050,000, Dean Douglas bid $1.1 million and Edge Construction bid $1,229,000. However, those lower bids left out required elements, including a specifications book and a list of subcontractors.
“After reviewing the bid submittals for the lowest bidders,” Garrett concluded, it was determined that the three lowest bidders did not meet all of the bid requirements and therefore, are not considered ‘responsive’ bidders.”
Therefore, Garrett recommended awarding the contract to longtime local contractor Mike Amon, who is also working on the phased construction of the Humane Society animal shelter on Main Street.
The highest of the 14 sealed bids came in at about $1.6 million.
Town officials said they hope to start construction as quickly as possible on the fire station set into a hillside on Tyler Parkway off Highway 260.
The station will feature a low-cost but innovative design, using the slope of the land to create a ground floor bay for the fire truck, with the living quarters for the firefighters overhead. The town staff recommended several upgrades from the original bid package, including a metal roof, metal interior studs, evaporative coolers in the fire truck bay, and retaining walls on the slope to leave more room on the property for other things — like future training facilities.
The town has also applied for federal grants to pay the salaries for the six to nine firefighters it will need to actually staff a single fire truck in the new station. The federal government has long sponsored grants for rural fire departments that would cover about 80 percent of the cost of a new firefighter for the first three years. Recent changes have made it possible to get grants that will cover 100 percent of the salary.
Town officials have said they think Payson has a good chance of qualifying for that grant. If the town doesn’t get the federal money, it might have to mothball the newly completed fire station until the economy improves.
The town is currently laboring under a hiring freeze and a ban on overtime. That restriction on overtime has hit the fire department especially hard, since the department had previously built overtime into its budget. As a result, most of the town’s firefighters are making 15 to 20 percent less than in previous years. In addition, the town has reduced staffing from three firefighters per truck to about two firefighters per truck.
Hiring the six to nine extra firefighters needed to man a truck around the clock could cost roughly $750,000 annually. Currently, Payson spends about $1 million annually for its fire department.
The town hopes to raise part of the money needed to operate the new station by canceling its $130,000 annual mutual aid contract with neighboring Hellsgate Fire Department, which protects Star Valley and many unincorporated communities. Hellsgate has long responded to calls on Payson’s eastern edge, which the new fire station will cover. Hellsgate also often sends a truck to stand by at one of the two existing Payson fire stations when those trucks are on a call, also part of the mutual aid agreement.
However, the impending loss of that mutual aid agreement has prompted Hellsgate to approve major budget cuts, including the layoff of a battalion chief.
Payson officials say that the new fire station will cut several minutes off existing response times, especially in areas like the country club communities on the border between Payson and Star Valley.
Firefighters say that a three- to four-minute delay in arriving can make a life-and-death difference on medical calls, which constitute the great majority of the department’s calls. Four minutes can also easily determine whether crews can stop a fire before it can spread to a neighboring house or escape into the trees.
The town will finance the fire station construction with the final $1.5 million in bonding authority approved by the voters several years ago.