WEST POINT — Big change is coming in how paramedic services are provided in Davis County.
The upshot, those involved say, will be more paramedics spread around the county and better service during medical emergencies. But the shift, to formally take effect by Jan. 1, 2023, will also likely mean property tax hikes for some, possibly in the coming fiscal year, 2021-2022. Impacted cities are still pinpointing the exact financial impact as officials in each ready for the change.
“It’ll be a big increase in service, faster response times,” said Mark Becraft, fire chief of the North Davis Fire District, or NDFD, which serves Clearfield, West Point, Sunset and some unincorporated portions of northern Davis County. Population growth in Davis County over the years, he went on, necessitates the change.
As is, the Davis County Sheriff’s Office provides paramedic services in much of the county, everywhere but Layton and the cities covered by South Davis Metro Fire, or SDMF — Bountiful, Centerville, North Salt Lake, West Bountiful and Woods Cross. Per the looming change, the fire departments outside Layton and South Davis Metro Fire will take over the responsibility of providing paramedic services from the sheriff’s office. That is, the North Davis Fire District, Kaysville Fire Department, Farmington Fire Department, Clinton Fire Department and Syracuse Fire Department will be adding paramedics to their staffs to handle the duties.
Years ago, when Davis County’s population was much smaller, the sheriff’s office, as one of the few large public safety agencies, was best suited to provide paramedic services, said County Commissioner Bob Stevenson. Under the system, sheriff’s office paramedics respond to emergency medical calls in the department’s coverage zone, traveling from wherever they happen to be. Now, with many more people and the corresponding expansion of the fire departments scattered around the county, Davis County has outgrown that model.
“Davis County has done such a good job with paramedics for so long, but patrolling such a large area with an underfunded department just doesn’t provide a level of service that we require in 2021,” said Shayne Scott, the Kaysville city manager.
Indeed, Stevenson said, paramedic services nationwide these days are traditionally provided by individual fire departments. The model tapping the sheriff’s office for paramedic services, he added, “is old and outdated.” The Davis County fire departments outside of Layton and South Davis Metro Fire currently have emergency medical technicians on staff, but they can’t provide the sort of medical services that paramedics provide, with the more extensive training they receive.
With the change, response times “will be much quicker for Kaysville residents as now we often have to wait for county paramedic crews to get to our city from other parts of the county. They are never stationed in Kaysville because they don’t patrol Kaysville and we wouldn’t expect them to be in our city,” Scott said.
Aside from shifting responsibility for provision of the service to individual fire departments, the number of two-person paramedic teams on duty at any given time around the county will increase from eight to 11. The boost, officials say, stems from the county’s population growth.
PROPERTY TAX HIKES?All told, the shift — in the works for about a year and a half, Becraft said — means big change not only in how paramedic services are provided, but in how they are funded. Currently, the countywide levy for paramedic services, overseen by Davis County commissioners, generates around $3 million a year, according to Stevenson. The Layton Fire Department and SDMF get around $750,000 each from that pot to cover their paramedic costs. The rest, around $1.5 million, is used by the sheriff’s office to serve the remaining Davis County communities.
With the change, outlined in an interlocal agreement inked by the impacted cities, that countywide levy will go away. Instead, each locale and fire district will be responsible for coming up with the money to cover paramedic costs, including pay for new workers.
In the North Davis Fire District, officials estimate they’ll have to generate $1.14 million a year to create a paramedic program. Around $400,000 of that represents taxes and fees residents in the district currently pay to the county for the services, which will go away. That will leave around $740,000 in new revenue, property taxes, to be generated.
Becraft said he and other district officials are in the process of getting word out to the public on the change and potential financial impact, likely focus of a special hearing over the summer. The owner of a $350,000 home in Clearfield, West Point and Sunset, the cities the district serves, would likely see a net annual increase of $79 in taxes paid for paramedic services, factoring the reduction at the county level.
“There no way around it,” Becraft said. The boost, if ultimately approved, would go into effect for the 2021-2022 fiscal year so the new North Davis Fire District paramedics can be on board and in service by July or August of 2022. Kaysville is working on a similar timeline.
Farmington City Manager Shane Pace and Scott, the Kaysville city manager, say property taxes would likely have to be increased in those cities to cover paramedic services, though the precise amount has yet to be determined. Special hearings on any tax hike would be held later this summer, giving the public a chance to speak out.
“We will end up increasing taxes more but we are hoping the net effect of an increase is small,” said Scott. Significantly, he added, “we know the impact on the services we provide will be incredible to those we serve.”
Syracuse officials are also mulling a tax hike, hoping the impact is minimal with the elimination of the county paramedic tax. Layton officials don’t expect any measurable change in property taxes there.
“In Layton, the overall change to the taxpayer should be negligible or revenue neutral,” said Gary Crane, the Layton city attorney. “The transition is designed so that the taxpayer will not experience an increase in their overall property tax bill as a result of the change.”