On March 8, all three Star Fire District commissioners abruptly resigned, leaving the district and its residents with a staggering debt and looming uncertainty about the future of improved service and cost-saving collaboration with the Eagle Fire District.
Gov. Butch Otter will soon appoint three new commissioners, who will take over a district in crisis.
Their first decisions will directly impact the financial future of the Star Fire District and the public safety of Star residents. Given all that's at stake, the firefighters of Eagle and Star strongly encourage the new commissioners to reinstate the joint powers agreement between the two fire districts, which has provided better service at lower costs since it was negotiated in 2012.
The joint powers agreement between the Eagle Fire District and the Star Fire District was initiated by both commissions with the goal of reducing redundancy, maximizing efficiency, improving training and service, and making the delivery of public safety services in the combined service area more cost-effective. Under the JPA, the two fire districts were to eventually evaluate the long-term benefits of a permanent consolidation.
Just prior to the resignation of the Star commissioners, the JPA was canceled. Immediately after, at a Star City Council meeting, Mayor Nate Mitchell floated a proposal that calls for the city of Star to purchase the Star Fire District assets, with the stated intention of alleviating the Star Fire District's severe debt problems that recently came to light.
Analysis by the Eagle Fire Department, however, shows that a consolidated fire district (with Eagle) would provide Star residents with at least a 12 percent savings on their fire district taxes. The combined fire districts also would likely provide most Star homeowners with additional savings on their property insurance, as the ISO rating that underwriters use to determine insurance premiums would improve.
Additionally, incident and emergency responses have seen significant improvements. Station staffing coverage is better. EMS and EMT training and coverage has expanded. Better service, more savings - that sounds like good governance to us.
These savings and efficiencies were on track to pay down the debt of Star Fire District and set the stage for a successful and mutually beneficial consolidation. We believe it was ill-advised to dissolve the JPA and equally unwise for the city of Star to assume the Fire District's liabilities when a perfectly good solution already existed.
The agreement between Star and Eagle was meeting taxpayer expectations: improved service and more efficient use of money. Now is not the time for a potentially costly change in direction.
We are confident that Gov. Otter, a resident of Star, will appoint qualified leaders to take up the challenge of putting the Star Fire District's financial house in order. A critical component of that work should be the ongoing collaboration and resulting efficiencies between the Eagle and Star fire districts.
Rob Shoplock is in his 13th year as a member of the Eagle Fire Department and president of Local 4553.