RIVERDALE -- Amid deteriorating morale in its fire department, Riverdale city has agreed to pay Roy city $3,300 per month to help manage the department.
The Riverdale city council recently approved an interlocal agreement, allowing Roy's fire chief and deputy fire chief to provide consulting services during "(Riverdale's) transition in leadership and operations."
Riverdale City Administrator Larry Hansen said many issues over the past nine months have brought about the need to evaluate management of the city's fire department.
First among those issues was the resignation of Fire Chief Doug Illum. Growth, budget and funding requirements are also part of the equation, Hansen said.
Roy Mayor Joe Ritchie said he thinks the agreement will be approved by the Roy council, but that city needs to make sure everything is lined up with Utah Retirement Systems. He noted that it seems simple for Riverdale to contract with Roy for fire services, but there are people and their retirement points to think about.
"I would hate to see one of our employees lose retirement points," Ritchie said.
Roy wants to help Riverdale, Ritchie said. He hopes the Roy council will hear back from URS in time to discuss the issue at its second December council meeting.
Riverdale considered three alternatives: re-establishing a public safety department with a director to manage both the fire service and police service; hiring a new fire chief; and a contractual relationship with another agency. In the meantime, the city appointed an acting fire chief, and the idea of a single person to manage both fire and police was scrapped.
"There is an opportunity here to address some issues that have become known to us over the last nine months regarding our present leadership," Hansen said. "The more we evaluate this, I have found some issues that need some professional leadership to try to resolve."
In an email dated Oct. 8, Hansen told council members, "I have personally observed some leadership performance-related issues which continue to cause me considerable concern."
Hansen said the decision to pursue the agreement was made after meeting with the current fire staff and fire captains and allowing them input.
As part of the new agreement, Roy Fire Chief Jason Poulsen would consult with Hansen and Riverdale fire captains. Poulsen would remain an employee of Roy city, while Roy would be compensated by Riverdale on a monthly basis.
"This agreement has been created to allow Riverdale city to continue a critical evaluation of leadership and operations," Hansen said in an executive summary.
While Roy fire professionals help manage Riverdale's fire department, Riverdale staff would take the time needed to assess "remaining leadership and operational performance," as well as resources needed to provide 24/7 coverage, according to the executive summary.
The agreement is in effect for five years, but either city can terminate the agreement with 60 days' notice.
Councilman Don Hunt, the only councilman to vote against the agreement, said strong leadership is mandatory.
"I still hold fast that if we are in the business of public safety, we should get on with the business of hiring a fire chief and move on," Hunt said.
Mayor Bruce Burrows said Roy's fire chief could help Riverdale staff identify what qualifications a new fire chief should possess.
"This agreement allows someone with professional eyes to look at our department and make sure we understand all the nuances," Burrows said. "A professional might spot something we don't. In my perspective, there are things that can be improved on."
While four city council members voted to approve the interlocal agreement, many said they would like issues resolved quickly.
"I would favor this agreement on a short-term basis with full intent to hire a full-time fire chief," Councilman Alan Arnold said. "We need someone full time caring for our department, our shifts, our equipment, our training. If it went five years, I would be very disappointed."
"If we are intending to educate ourselves on what we are looking for in a fire chief, that shouldn't take five years," Councilman Mike Staten said. "This should be a temporary arrangement."
The transitional period between when Illum resigned and the interlocal agreement was adopted has had an impact on Riverdale's fire department.
"There is deteriorating morale and harmony," Hansen said. "We are trying to improve the situation."
Despite low morale, Burrows said Riverdale's fire department has performed professionally with citizens' safety being a top priority.
"There are some morale questions, but there has never been a question of their professionalism when they have a call," Burrows said. "They handle it in a professional and well-organized way. There has never been a downside as far as safety is concerned."
"This is a core service," Councilman Braden Mitchell said. "This might be one of the most important decisions we've made as councilors."
Standard-Examiner correspondent Rachel Trotter contributed to this story.