In an announcement touted as "one of the most important in recent memory," Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said he wants to begin combining the county's fire department with that of Salt Lake City.
But the commissioner, famous for hyperbole, exhibited enthusiasm Monday to a degree apparently not shared by Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.Horiuchi made his announcement at a press conference. But DePaulis declined to talk to reporters, issuing a statement through his press secretary, Lynn Zimmerman.
"He (DePaulis) believes if it's feasible, we ought to do it," Zimmerman said, noting that the mayor has been encouraging the consolidation of services since 1986.
Unlike Horiuchi, DePaulis has a City Council that must be convinced before action can be taken.
Horiuchi admitted he is in the early stages of negotiating an agreement between the two governments. But he hopes to be able to combine the fire departments within the next 18 months.
The two departments together have budgets equaling $35 million. Horiuchi had no estimate as to how much money he expects to save by combining the two departments, other than to say it would be large. He said firefighters won't lose their jobs because of the consolidation.
Commissioner Mike Stewart, the lone Republican on the three-man board, said he supports the move but doubts much money will be saved.
"You've got to have the same personnel to cover the area," he said. "The only savings you'll have is if you close fire stations. The point is, no one wants to close fire stations."
Salt Lake County Fire Chief Larry Hinman said some positions could be eliminated in a merger. For example, each department has four people assigned to training divisions.
The governments studied such a merger in 1987, but nothing came of it. Horiuchi said things will change now that he is in office and has the political will to make it happen.
"It does not take great analysis to understand that a merged department would operate more effectively in a valleywide emergency such as an earthquake," Horiuchi said. "Most importantly, residents would see an improved firefighting capability valleywide."
Stewart, who was part of the Republican-controlled commission in place when the 1987 report was issued, said Horiuchi might be right.
"This may be something that could fly now," he said. "But you also ought to have the courage to say no if it won't save money or be feasible."