After years of shouting matches, a dispute between Orem and Utah County is ending quietly.
The county contracts with area cities to provide fire protection for nearby unincorporated areas. After working for some time without an agreement, Orem last month gave the county an ultimatum - propose an acceptable agreement or Orem crews will stop fighting county fires as of Sept. 1.County officials then asked Orem to draw up a contract, City Manager Daryl Berlin told the city council Tuesday night.
Previous contracts have outlined fee schedules for equipment use and workers' time. In addition, the new contract will give city officials the right to inspect hazardous areas they will be asked to protect, and the contract will protect Orem from lawsuits over simple negligence.
Earlier proposals submitted by the county contained a clause to "indemnify Utah County against all claims arising from the negligence of city employees" who fought county fires, Berlin said at an earlier meeting. He said smaller towns had accepted the agreement without complaint. But, unlike those cities, Orem is self-insured, and would have to absorb any financial loses from a lawsuit.
"The liability was always the main issue," City Attorney Paul Johnson said Tuesday. "We haven't always been paid equipment fees, but we have lived with that. We have wanted Utah County to take responsibility for cases of simple negligence that might result from accidents involving Orem crews and equipment being used at county fires.
"The county has chosen not to spend its money on fire stations and trucks. If they hired their own people and used their own equipment, they would pay the price for any negligence. Well, they want us to fight their fires, which we agree to do, but they don't want to offer the protection an employer would give an employee. Orem taxpayers shouldn't have to pay the price of fighting fires in the county."
Orem still will be liable for cases of gross negligence.
"Most people consider it simple negligence when it is a mistake any reasonable person could make," Johnson said. "It's like `whoops.' An accident would be gross negligence when anyone should have known better; when the act looks borderline intentional."
Johnson said there may be some cases when a judge will have to decide if an act was simple or gross negligence.
But he doesn't expect many claims.
"Orem has never had a claim yet. We just want the protection in case something does happen."
Berlin said he hopes the agreement would give Orem officials the right to inspect Geneva Steel and certain chemical plants in the area.
The council approved the agreement Johnson submitted. City officials will sign it, then send it to the county for final approval.
"I've told the county what's in it, and I think they will approve it," Johnson said. He would not speculate on whether the ultimatum had forced an agreement or whether Mayor Blaine Willes' negotiations had brought the city and county together.