Sunset to add firefighters, begin using ambulance soon

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SUNSET — Mayor Chad Bangerter's proposal to plug a $140,000 hole in the budget by doing away with Sunset's nearly 55-year-old fire department was rejected Tuesday by the City Council.

Instead, council members voted unanimously to add nine firefighters to the city's volunteer department, bringing its total to 35 and allowing for 24-hour coverage in the city. And they found other ways to offset the budget deficit — thanks in part to $100,000 that had been sitting in the city's economic development fund.

Sunset's firefighters, including Chief Neil Cocker, are not considered city employees, but they do receive a stipend from the city. The addition of nine firefighters will add roughly a $35,000 burden to the city's budget for fiscal 2011-12, Bangerter said.

"It's hard for me to accept that we're going to try to bring on more people, even volunteers, at a time when the city is struggling financially." Mayor Chad Bangerter

"It's hard for me to accept that we're going to try to bring on more people, even volunteers, at a time when the city is struggling financially," the mayor said.

Bangerter says the city could save as much as $100,000 per year by contracting with a neighboring provider — such as Clinton, Roy or the North Davis Fire District — rather than staffing its own fire department.

But Cocker estimates running an ambulance service as part of the city's fire department will generate about $70,000 in annual revenue.

Councilman Ryan Furniss said that figure likely is conservative and takes into account start-up costs. In addition to providing a revenue source to the city, the 24-hour fire department with ambulance service will result in quicker response times to Sunset residents, Furniss said.

Bangerter questioned those revenue projections and earlier this year called for an independent study on the potential cost or revenue of operating an ambulance. That study pointed out that municipalities and agencies providing ambulance service often subsidize those services, Bangerter said.

Furniss called that study "flawed," saying it compared Sunset's fire department with full-time departments in other cities.

"That's like comparing apples to watermelons," he said.

Firefighters last year bought an ambulance truck and donated it to the city. The staffing increase would allow the department to finally begin using the truck when the licensing process is complete. That process is expected to take between 30 and 90 days.

Now that the council has made its decision, the mayor said he will adjust his budget accordingly. Following budget adjustments made Tuesday, no tax increases are expected.

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