Editor's note: After this story went to print on Sept. 30, the Town of Payson announced it had concluded the bid process and negotiations regarding the Main Street Fire Station. Since an agreement was not met, Station 11 will remain a town asset.
Plans to sell the Main Street fire station have drawn considerable interest from residents, including business owners on Main Street.
The Payson Town Council met in executive session during its Sept. 23 meeting to discuss recent bids for the station after one came in they couldn’t ignore, according to Town Manager Troy Smith.
In response, concerned citizens and Main Street property owners have a meeting planned to discuss the sale on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Oxbow Saloon.
Smith said the town has been studying the issue of improving fire response times and coverage since March and part of that is possibly building a new, central station.
The council learned of staff’s intent to study public safety needs during meetings to prepare them for the budget. During a Feb. 23 Corporate Strategic Plan presentation, Smith discussed the fire department’s need to study what service it will need to provide as the town grows. Currently, plans to build 400 homes have started the permit and building process with the town. The study came up again during a Capital Improvement program meeting on March 30.
But the town has been mostly quiet on the fire study and bids for the Main Street station. News that the town was seeking bids for the purchase of the station only came out after the town placed a classified ad in the Roundup on Aug. 17
At the Sept. 23 meeting, Councilor Jim Ferris wondered why the council needed to meet behind closed doors to discuss the details of the sale.
“You don’t want to talk about a deal in public,” said Jon Paladini, the town’s contract attorney in response to Ferris’ question.
So, the council went into executive session and did not discuss the bids after coming out.
In a follow-up interview, Smith said the town will present the findings of its seven-month study on response times, station maintenance costs, population centers and suggestions on how to provide adequate service during the Oct. 28 council meeting.
“Growth is sort of spaced out in the community,” said Smith. “Our growth (is) largely to the west of the community. If you just look at where our fire stations are, we do not have a fire station on the west side of town.”
Smith explained the area set to expand the most includes the large swaths of undeveloped forest that run below Airport and Vista roads and out at the end of Wagon Wheel.
“Our estimate and looking at the community had us wondering if the department has the right number of stations right now and into the future,” said Smith.
The study has used national standards to estimate how to best serve the residents when they need help from the fire department.
“Our goal was to evaluate our current service delivery and ways to make improvements to that as the community grows,” said Smith.
He explained each fire station has a service area, like a police district. Their primary purpose is covering that area.
For the study, however, “when you are talking about response times, you have to factor in the call volumes,” said Smith.
The Main Street station is by far the oldest in Payson’s lineup of three stations. Payson just finished paying off a bond for the fire station built in 2011 off of State Route 260 and Tyler Parkway. They built the station on Rancho Road in 2000. The Main Street station has been operational since before the town incorporated in the 1970s.
Smith understands that if a resident lives by a busy fire station, they might believe they get faster service, but Smith said chances are they won’t. A busy station means the engines and paramedics spend most of their time away from the station answering calls. If a neighbor to that station needs help, it could take longer because no one from their local station is available to help.
Smith floated the idea that by consolidating station companies in a central area, that could provide a more efficient response time.
“Fewer stations might equal better service,” he said. “Resources responding from a central location may be able to provide a higher and more effective level of service.”
The town isn’t ready to present its results from the study just yet. The report will be ready to present at the council’s Oct. 28 meeting, said Smith.
He believes the Oct. 12 Oxbow meeting “will be a week or two early” for a town representative to attend.