Ambulance has Sunset weighing merits of cost vs. service

May 3 2011 - 11:25pm

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(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Lt. Amy Kippen and firefighter Matt Gardner stand next to the Sunset Fire Department’s new ambulance Tuesday. Sunset officials aren’t sure the city can afford to use it.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) A new ambulance sits parked next to a fire engine in the Sunset Fire Department on Tuesday. City officials are trying to determine if the city can afford to run its own ambulance service.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Lt. Amy Kippen and firefighter Matt Gardner stand next to the Sunset Fire Department’s new ambulance Tuesday. Sunset officials aren’t sure the city can afford to use it.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) A new ambulance sits parked next to a fire engine in the Sunset Fire Department on Tuesday. City officials are trying to determine if the city can afford to run its own ambulance service.

SUNSET -- The Sunset Fire Department has a nearly new ambulance, but it remains parked at the fire station -- and not because of gas prices.

The vehicle was purchased by the Firefighters Association eight months ago and was donated to the city.

However, the 2006 ambulance, with 32,000 miles on it, remains parked at the station at 85 W. 1800 North while Sunset Mayor Chad Bangerter and Sunset Fire Chief Neil Coker debate the merits of costs versus service.

The Sunset City Council will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. May 17 at City Hall, 200 W. 1300 North. To be discussed is whether the city should put the ambulance into operation beginning in July.

At the hearing, Bangerter hopes to have in hand an independent study he requested four weeks ago that breaks down the city's cost to operate an ambulance service.

"We're barely making it now. We're cutting everywhere we can. (Currently) we're looking to hire nine more (firefighters to operate the ambulance)," Bangerter said.

"I would love to have an ambulance in Sunset city, but can the residents continue to subsidize this with increased taxes? No."

But Coker said the proposed ambulance budget he submitted to the council will work within the 2011-12 fiscal year budget the council has tentatively approved for the 26-member volunteer fire department.

"We are not looking at starting (the service) until next budget year," he said.

Coker also said an ambulance will shave response times to emergency calls in the city "by at least two minutes."

The Clinton Fire Department has been providing ambulance service for Sunset since 2002.

Bangerter said his concern is that the city cannot afford to operate its own ambulance service without raising taxes on its 5,000-plus residents.

"I am the one that has to justify the tax increase, not them," he said, referring to the firefighters and council.

Councilman Ryan Furniss, a proponent of using the ambulance, said the vehicle will pay for itself.

"I think we need to give it a try, and should it fail, I have already got my 'for sale' sign bought," he said.

Bangerter said the city, in fiscal year 2011-12, will have a budget of about $3.8 million, which is $200,000 to $300,000 less than what it budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Now is not the time for the city to extend its budget by adding a service it is already receiving from other cities through interlocal agreements, he said.

"We're surrounded and engulfed with ambulances," Bangerter said of the ambulance services in Clinton, Roy and Clearfield that are available to Sunset.

If the city were to operate its own ambulance, Coker said, the interlocal agreements for ambulance service it has with surrounding cities would remain in place in the event the city's ambulance is in use.

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