IVINS — The fire department marriage between Ivins and Santa Clara is experiencing distress.

A file photo of fire vehicles parked outside the Center Street Fire Station, Ivins, Utah, Aug. 10, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Yet contrary to a rumor spreading on social media, that doesn’t mean the shared fire department between the two cities is being split.

According to officials from both cities, the city of Ivins has been overcharged close to $129,000 since the two fire departments merged in 2018.

Both cities say they were unaware of the overcharge until the last few weeks. It was determined that additional charges from the fire department have created an additional $225,000 budget bill combined for Santa Clara and Ivins.

“It was clear not the intention of Santa Clara to short-change us,” Ivins City Council member Mike Scott said during a council meeting on Feb. 1. “They just made a mistake and we didn’t catch it until this year — which was also not good.”

The current dispute is a reminder from two years ago, when council members in Ivins considered a break-up of the fire department over what they said was a lack of coverage in Ivins, as well as the shuttering of the Center Street Fire Station in Ivins.

Since then, Center Street is now back in full operation and the department itself has expanded personnel. According to department statistics, reduced response time ranged from an average of 15 minutes to five minutes.

That additional coverage has come at a monetary costs the two cities are trying to grasp with. Both city councils met jointly on Jan. 25 and have been meeting since then to hammer out a compromise. Those meetings are expected to continue over the next week.

During the Jan. 25 joint meeting, Santa Clara City Attorney Matt Ence said any assertion Santa Clara intended to deceive their neighbors is false. 

“Respectfully, I do think its important to recognize there was a course of action between the two cities and what Santa Clara did wasn’t in the dark,” Ence said. “This issue was not raised for six, going on seven years. Any implication there was an attempt to conceal is wrong.”

(L-R) Ivins Mayor Chris Hart and Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg listen in with members of the Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Department behind them as the city councils of Ivins and Santa Clara hold a joint meeting at Ivins City Hall, Ivins, Utah, Jan. 25, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Also at that Jan. 25 meeting, both cities agreed to add to their respective councils’ upcoming meetings a proposal for a compromise on the $129,000 overcharge.

At their Feb. 1 meeting, the Ivins Council agreed to seek only a part of the surcharge — $80,000 — from Santa Clara.

Currently, the Santa Clara Council still has not had the overcharge item on an agenda.

Santa Clara Council members and officials blame emergency management services as a big source of the increasing costs of the department, noting that Santa Clara did not have EMS services before the merger.

Officials from both cities say an answer is right now in the state legislature, where a pending bill in tbhe Utah House of Representatives would allow the two cities to have up to a 1% sales tax to help fund EMS.

That bill, Local Option Sales Tax Amendments, designated HB 442, was approved unanimously in committee on Wednesday. Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Chief Andrew Parker traveled to Salt Lake City on Valentine’s Day to testify before the committee. 

On Thursday, the Ivins Council unanimously approved a budget amendment that, among other things, reduced funding for the city’s animal shelter, street repairs and capital projects to make up for a current budget deficit of $65,899. 

It’s unclear what measures budgetary will be made by Santa Clara, which has the ultimate operational oversight of the fire department.

However, officials dispelled a rumor spreading online on several social media sites that Santa Clara was going to force a 50% reduction in firefighters and close Center Street Station.

In a file photo, Santa Clara-Ivins firefighters fight a burning SUV and travel trailer on fire at the driveway of a home on Ridgeview Circle in Ivins, Utah. May 5, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“That’s a lot of misinformation,”  Lance Haynie, the government affairs director of the Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Department, told St. George News.

Haynie and the department released a further statement to St. George News Saturday saying that while the budget issues are being settled, the department is temporarily reducing some overtime hours for firefighters. If an individual is on vacation or out sick, the vacant position may not be filled for that day.

Fire Chief Parker has previously told both councils than a large part of the additional charges coming from the department have been from firefighters filling in for those who have either been sick or engaged in wildfire operations.

“There has been a temporary suspension of constant staffing in its current form. Notably, no department in Washington County has previously implemented constant staffing as we have,” Haynie said. “I further want to emphasize that no employees have been terminated, let go, or laid off. The fire department remains steadfast in ensuring the safety and well-being of our community.”

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