Property taxes may rise soon for the 280,000 people living in unincorporated Salt Lake County in an effort to improve an aging, overburdened fire department.

County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said Monday he wants to pump $2.4 million into the fleet of aging fire engines and trucks, up to $1.25 million to replace fire stations likely to crumble in an earthquake and to hire 112 additional fire employees.And he wants to do it quickly, maybe as soon as June. "If we're going to ever raise taxes, it will be for fire or public safety," he said.

Without more money, the department will take longer to respond to fires and may run the risk of losing lives, said Fire Chief Larry Hin-man. He said businesses may see an increase in insurance costs as the county's capability to fight fires decreases.

Hinman said one-third of the county's firefighting fleet should be replaced this year, including four pumper trucks that date to 1974. He said several fires over the past few days have underscored the need for more money.

And, should an earthquake hit, seven of the county's 17 stations likely will be leveled.

"We are at the point that unless some of these major deficiencies begin to have remedies applied to them, quality fire service will be a thing of the past," Horiuchi said, adding he doesn't know how big a tax increase he might ask for.

But a quick tax hike may not be easy to come by. Fellow Commissioner Mike Stewart said he would consider raising taxes, but not until the end of the year when the county considers its next budget. A tax hike at the end of the year would not take effect until the county mails property tax notices in November 1992.

"The cause is just," Stewart said. "I don't discount the need. But I do think this is a matter we need to address in a full-blown budget session. We've got some multimillion-dollar questions out there. All are ripe for consideration."

The third commissioner, Jim Bradley, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

While asking for more money, Horiuchi also continued his pledge to save taxpayers money by consolidating the county's fire department with those of Salt Lake City and other cities. He claimed to have met earlier in the day with Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis and said DePaulis is considered fire consolidation a top priority next to helping the city acquire the bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

However, DePaulis said Monday he had agreed only to meet with county officials and learn what the county's needs are and what issues must be resolved. He said he is encouraged by the possibility the county will improve its fire department.

"Right now the city has better services," DePaulis said. "This could help equalize things."

Horiuchi said many of the unsafe fire stations are near stations belonging to other cities. But he said the county probably will try to fix or replace its stations before it consolidates its department with any other government.


(Additional information)

Where money would go

What more taxes would buy:

- $2.4 million worth of new fire engines and equipment

- Replace seven stations that are seismically unsafe

- Hire 112 additional fire employees~