Status quo clingers.
Fortunately, we’re not in the grip those well-known bureaucratic types in Rim Country — at least when it comes to discussing the possibility of cutting costs and increasing safety by merging Rim Country fire departments.
Now, we haven’t seen all the details of the plan to set up a fire district to control the Payson, Hellsgate and Houston Mesa fire departments. So some financial or political problem could rear up to thwart the plan.
However, the Payson Town Council and the Hellsgate Fire board gave a thoughtful and serious reception to a merger plan presented after months of work by fire officials.
Overall, the plan makes great sense.
- Payson, Hellsgate and Houston Mesa would set up a separate fire district to operate all three departments. Payson would provide three-quarters of the funding — about equal to the $3.8 million the town currently spends on its fire department. Hellsgate, which protects Star Valley and other communities, would contribute its own revenues, amounting to about $1.8 million. The Houston Mesa Fire Department has already effectively merged with Payson, through a management contract with the town.
A merger offers many potential advantages, including:
- Streamlined administration, without the need for each department to have a chief and an elaborate command structure.
- Coordinated training, to both save money and ensure the three departments can operate as a single unit in an emergency.
- Savings on equipment, with each department sharing crucial, but rarely used equipment.
- Seamless response in an emergency, like a wildfire or a flood.
- Strengthened focus on Firewise and fire prevention codes.
- Improved regional approach to wildfires and fire danger.
- Enhanced ability to land grants and seek state and federal assistance.
Of course, in a complicated case like this, the devil’s lurking in the details. The three departments need to work out the financial arrangements, deal with the huge unfunded liability for firefighters’ pensions and benefits, fairly establish control and representation on the board and enlist public support for the proposal.
Fortunately, Payson Fire Chief David Staub and Hellsgate Fire Chief John Wisner have worked closely to get the long-neglected idea this far. We’re confident they can work together to offer both the town council and the fire boards a solid, fully developed proposal.
In the meantime, we’re grateful to have visionary public officials who can solve problems, instead of merely defending their turf with a death grip on the status quo.