South Ogden, Washington Terrace, Riverdale mull consolidating fire departments

July 30, 2018

WASHINGTON TERRACE — A study examining the possibility of consolidating the South Ogden, Washington Terrace and Riverdale fire departments is complete.

Now officials need to sort through it and decide if creating a united fire district is the way to go, similar to the Weber and  North View fire districts, which each serve multiple locales in Weber County.

“Right now, it’s still quite preliminary,” said Tom Hanson, the city administrator for Washington Terrace.

The city councils for the three cities meet Tuesday to learn more about the study, backed by the three communities, “and then we’d go from there,” said South Ogden Mayor Russell Porter. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Washington Terrace Public Works Building, 575 E. 5600 South.

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Porter, for one, sees merit in unifying the departments in the three southern Weber County cities, which border each other. “I think it would be good because it would improve service to the whole area,” he said, particularly in zones where a department from an adjoining city is closest.

Still, officials need to more thoroughly analyze whether change would improve service and also weigh the cost.

Aside from improved service, a key potential advantage of consolidating would be increased ease in recruiting firefighters, said Rodger Worthen, the Riverdale city manager. Keeping and recruiting public safety officials can be difficult, but he thinks a larger, consolidated department would be better able to attract candidates than the three smaller city departments by themselves.

Another key consideration, Worthen thinks, is whether the three cities are overlapping in their service offerings.

The South Ogden and Riverdale fire departments are full-time operations but Washington Terrace relies on a volunteer force, committing less funding. The likely increase in funding Washington Terrace would need to join a unified department, according to Hanson, could make it tougher for the city to take part in a fire district.

A property tax hike would probably be the only way to generate new funding, Hanson thinks, and with 60 percent of Washington Terrace residents in lower- or moderate-income households, that could be a tough sell. “Everything is extremely tight,” he said, alluding to the frugal spending in the city.

Officials haven’t yet publicly released the $16,500 study, handled by Salt Lake City-based Zion’s Public Finance, but Worthen said it doesn’t offer a definitive recommendation on the route the cities ought to pursue. Rather, it offers an analysis using figures and comparisons to other fire districts.

Administrative staffing levels could go down via consolidation, but most likely through attrition, Porter said. Layoffs wouldn’t be part of the change and each of the three cities would retain their firehouses if consolidation were to move ahead.

“We’re not looking to get rid of anybody or demote anybody,” he said.

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Sunset in neighboring Davis County transferred firefighting responsibilities last year to the North Davis Fire District, generating criticism from some who favored keeping the department intact in the city. Porter said an educational campaign to get word out to the public would be necessary if the idea of a new fire district in Weber County is to move forward.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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