Merger’s not a good deal for Payson
I realize that our neighbors living in the Hellsgate Fire District may suffer the loss of adequate fire protection due to pending financial problems, yet I am not a proponent of combining Payson Fire and Hellsgate Fire departments into one united fire district (which would be governed by a sort of fire board). Rather than Payson turning our fire department over to a fire board, I am recommending that the Town of Payson contract fire and EMS services to the Hellsgate Fire District. Let me explain why.
The Town of Payson has a professional management system in place including a well-staffed finance department to oversee and regulate funds and to project revenues and expenses. Payson has a human resources department that serves to help recruit and retain employees and to keep us out of hot water in dealing with complex employment laws. The Town has a legal department which is very involved in the day to day operations of all the departments. And, we have an experienced and seasoned town manager in place to make sure things are running as they should and to carry out the policies put in place by the council. All of these systems, most of them operating in the background, allow for the organization to accomplish its basic task, which is to serve the people.
If Payson commits to turning all of our revenue designated for the Payson Fire Department to a combined fire district, (which may be around $4 million) how long will it be before the new fire district comes back to Payson to ask for more money? Or, even if we commit to giving the new fire district 25 percent of our sales tax, will the fire district be willing to accept cuts when the Town hits tough times? When Payson revenues fall, our manager is capable of acting swiftly and ordering department heads to tighten their belts, and it’s not a big political fight. And then there is the question of who owns the buildings and the equipment? And what if five years down the road one of the entities decides that it’s not working, now what do they do?
The answer is not the proposed complex fire district governed by a politically appointed board. Instead, the Town of Payson could absorb the Hellsgate Fire Department employees, assume management of the district, not ownership of buildings or apparatuses and be reimbursed from Hellsgate Fire District revenues. I don’t think Payson will break even on a cost analysis. I think the Town will lose money. But Hellsgate is in financial trouble and this would be the neighborly and prudent thing to do.
Gordon H. Gartner