After years of debate, the Orem City Council has given the county an ultimatum - come up with a more reasonable proposal to keep Orem fighting county fires, or Orem will stop fighting those fires Sept. 1.
The annual contract has brought Orem $5,300 in the past. Orem would like more money for risking its expensive equipment, but its main complaint concerns liability.Daryl Berlin, Orem city manager, said the proposal submitted by the county would "indemnify Utah County against all claims arising from the negligence of city employees" who fought a county fire.
Orem officials said they would prefer to be responsible only for cases of gross negligence, but admitted there would probably be many disputes over which acts were negligent and which were grossly negligent.
Berlin said several small towns have accepted the proposed agreement without complaint. They have small-budget, part-time fire departments, and are eager to earn the money. But, unlike the smaller towns, Orem is self-insured. Costs arising from lawsuits could drain the city's financial reserves.
"We can't pass the cost on to someone else. We eat it," he said.
"This is a county function and the city should not be put at risk," Councilman Keith Hunt said. "If I were a county commissioner, I would want this deal too, but I'm not sure it is right."
Councilman Kelvin Clayton agreed.
"We should not accept responsibility that belongs to the county."
But Mayor Blaine Willes said the county does not have enough funds to take over firefighting in smaller towns and unincorporated areas.
"For that, taxes would have to be much higher. To get the tax base for this kind of service, we would have to let them urbanize, which is something we have been fighting for a long time." Willes said when more people moved to unincorporated areas, it costs established cities growth.
But councilmembers agreed Orem should hold out for a more favorable agreement.
"We are buying a lot of problems for the future if we don't stand up now and tell the county to get its act together," Councilman Paul Washburn said.
Orem will continue to fight area fires through Aug. 31 while it awaits a revised proposal from the county.