The Kane County Commission hosted a public Town Hall at Kanab Center on August 11, 2022, at 7 p.m., on the topic of proposed boundaries for fire service districts in the county. On the dais were Public Lands Director Taylor Glover, Commissioner Wade Heaton, Commissioner Andy Gant, County Clerk Auditor Karla Johnson and Deputy Clerk Auditor Candace Brown. About 45 county residents were in attendance, including Kanab Fire Chief Brett Pierson, former Kanab Fire Chief Joe Decker and residents from the Church Wells area.
Commissioner Gant noted in his opening comments that this meeting was for the purpose of collecting public input on the topic of fire service for unincorporated areas, adding that the commissioners met with area fire chiefs earlier that day for their input on proposed service district boundaries and services. Regarding special service districts Gant noted, “The county’s responsibility is to help set up boundaries and start the process.”
Commissioner Heaton spoke for a few minutes on special service districts, explaining that they are governmental entities created within a county, and governed by an independent board that provide municipal-type services, adding, “Other than setup and training in how to operate, special service districts operate on their own,” noting that, “Counties create special service districts, they become public entities and after that, the county steps away and the district governs itself.” A consistent supporter of the concept, Heaton went on to say he believes that “government closest to people serves people best.”
Heaton also noted that this town hall is the first in what will be an ongoing series of monthly open meetings, meant to provide the public with an opportunity to connect with the commission. “Our intent is to hear from you. We’ll be having meetings every month in different locations around the county.” These meetings will be on topics of local interest and feature open question and answer sessions.
The moderators then opened the floor to questions, including:
Q: Are service district fees set by the county?
A: No, service district fees are set by the governing boards of each district.
Q: Are district service fees the same as taxes?
A: No, they are fees. The county helps districts collect these fees on behalf of service districts as a courtesy, but they are allocated to those districts for the sole purpose of providing specific services.
Q: What types of fees can a service district apply?
A: Service districts can apply fees at a flat rate, based on property improvements, or based on assessed value.
Q: What is the mechanism for a district choosing or not choosing to provide services?
A: There are some limits on the types of services that can be provided in a special service district, but the choice to provide services is up to each district’s governing board.
Q: Who will provide fire services to each proposed district?
A: Initially, fire services will most likely be delivered by existing municipal service providers, like Kanab City Fire Department and Cedar Mountain Fire Department, through memorandums of understanding between the provider and the district. For example, fire service for the proposed Vermillion SSD could be provided by Kanab City Fire Department, with the additional costs to KCFD being covered by fees assessed by the district.
As another example, an individual district may decide to establish a satellite station for fire services in its service area. Funding and staffing for this would be managed by the district board, the cost of which could be included in district fees or arranged via a memorandum of understanding with an existing fire services provider, or a combination of both.
Spirited, but civil exchanges continued throughout the evening. The panel noted again that the proposed service district boundaries are just that – proposed. Their size, shape, services and governance are still in the development phase, of which this and other town halls are an important part.
The bottom line is that the Kanab City Fire Department already responds to calls outside the city limits. They respond because it’s the right thing to do. The department is funded and equipped, however, to serve the area inside city limits. Unfunded services provided outside those limits significantly impact the department’s personnel and resources. The only way to increase personnel and resources is with funding, and the only way to secure funding is through service fees. Special service districts are an established and reliable way to manage fire services and its associated costs.
A recording of this meeting can be found at https://www.utah.gov/pmn/sitemap/notice/772967.html.