Ivins having a 4-year itch over its fire department marriage with Santa Clara

IVINS — A public hearing at the Ivins City Council over its  2023 fiscal year budget Thursday night turned into the council contemplating a “divorce” with Santa Clara over the two cities’ joint fire department. During the same discussion, a group of residents also demanded that more funds be shifted to new pickleball courts in the city. 

Ivins Director of Finance Cade Visser speaks to the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, May 19, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The two cities merged their fire departments at the start of 2018. At the time, officials said the move was to pool staffing and resources and provide better service to the growing populations of both cities.

But during the budget discussion at the council’s Thursday night meeting, residents, council members and the mayor said that Ivins is getting short-changed in the firefighting marriage. 

The main source of contention was the move late last year by the department to no longer man any fire stations within Ivins city limits.

“One of the huge concerns is that the plans don’t show the investment out here as they do expanding in Santa Clara and to me that is grounds for divorce. Our people deserve better than that,” Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said during the meeting, though he cautioned a little couples counseling might be better than a full break-up. “We’re trying to keep this together. There would be a significant budget impact if we broke up.”

As part of the agreement that merged both the two cities’ fire and police forces, Santa Clara oversees the fire/emergency medical services department and makes most of the ultimate decisions on how it is run and budgeted with Ivins contributing money and resources. The opposite is true on the police side, with Ivins holding most of the operational reins. 

In a file photo, Santa Clara-Ivins firefighters and EMS come to the aid of a driver whose vehicle ended up down a cliff 30 feet below Old Dixie Highway 91 just east of the Gunlock Drive intersection, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 4, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

At the end of last year after the department opened a third fire station at 2875 Circle Drive in Santa Clara. It then made an operational decision to keep that station and the one at 2365 Rachel Drive in Santa Clara manned continuously, while leaving the station at 90 W. Center St., in Ivins unmanned. 

The Ivins station does contain fire engines and equipment, as well as the office for the chief of Santa Clara-Ivins Fire. Otherwise, there are not usually any firefighters on Center Street and any fire or EMS call in Ivins is responded to from the two Santa Clara stations.

The discussion concerning the fire department began during the public hearing for the city’s tentative 2023 fiscal-year budget. Resident Becky Warren questioned why the budget didn’t include funds for a new fire station in Ivins and added fire response times – especially in western Ivins – aren’t adequate.

“I feel strongly we need to deal with a lack of a fire station,” Warren told the council. “The need is now.”

Council member Jenny Johnson , who called the fire department her “passion” said she has similar concerns with Warren. She said earlier Thursday there was a fire at 300 South and Main Street and her daughter called her about seeing black smoke. 

Map shows location of manned fire stations between Ivins and Santa Clara with fire symbols in the lower-right as of May 20, 2022, between, with the approximate boundaries of Santa Clara shaded in blue | Fire graphic by iStock/Getty Images Plus, photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“In the time it took me to walk down there, there was still no fire truck and when they came it was two firefighters,” Johnson said, adding that since the two cities merged the two departments, Ivins has not been getting the best bang for their bucks.

“Our contribution has doubled or tripled in last three years. Is it really beneficial to our community? The services have diminished considerably.”

In its tentative budget, Ivins is investing $1,301,859 in the department – a 20.9% increase from the year before. Santa Clara in its tentative 2023 budget is putting in $2,215,462 for the department, which is 86% more from the year before.

In contrast, Ivins is contributing $3,043,785 into the joint Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department, up 13.5% from 2022, as well as opening in just the last week a conversion of the old City Hall into the new SCI Public Safety Building. Santa Clara contributes $1,336,201 to the police or 10.5% more than last year. 

When St. George News reached out to Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg for a response to accusations the merger has resulted in less fire service for Ivins, he said he wanted to look more into the matter and planned to contact his counterpart Hart to discuss the situation.

“Not until I’ve had the opportunity to read the meeting minutes and understand what was actually said,” Rosenberg said. 

Santa Clara/Ivins fireighters 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 David Dudley, St. George News

During her comments to the council, Warren noted that she knows of neighbors who have lost their fire insurance because of the lack of a nearby station. “This is happening to our residents and I find it unacceptable,” Warren said. 

Council member Adel Murphy confirmed Warren’s claim about fire insurance.

“I had a neighbor that tried to change insurance and were told, ‘You would lose your fire insurance,’” Murphy said. “It depends on the insurance company. I changed mine and there was no problem at all.”

Ivins City Manager Dale Coulam said while Santa Clara could do more to make sure that at least the Center Street station was manned, it is not entirely to blame for the lack of a new station. 

“Under the joint agreement, stations are the responsibility of each city,” Coulam said. “A new station may be our responsibility.”

That said, council member Mike Scott said while there ultimately needs to be a new station, especially on the west side of town, the lack of any on-call firefighters at the station just a block from Ivins City Hall is the most glaring issue. 

“Without Center Street, we don’t have five-minute coverage throughout Ivins. We have kind of an emergency situation with fire,” Scott said. “We’re a customer with Santa Clara but an unhappy customer. Right now, we  have a perfectly good fire station but it’s not doing any good.”

Pickleball problems

While the fire department situation had the most gravity for the council members, the most public comment came not so much for the lack of fire response, but the lack of available courts for pickleball. 

A resident speaks to the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, May 19, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Three residents rose to speak of the need to include funds for more pickleball courts in the budget. They noted a recent petition that now has 400 signatures asking for the city to construct more pickleball courts. There are presently four public pickleball courts in the city. 

Residents said having more should be a priority in the budget. “We have 10 people here and what does that tell you?” one said.

However, Hart said the biggest issue is finding a place for the courts that doesn’t involve tearing out recreation options used by others. Saying that each court would cost the city around $40,000, he added there were other priorities that also took precedent. 

“It requires land which we don’t have. What do we have to do is keep our streets safe and things running. I would love to have more pickleball courts. We’ve heard you,” the mayor said. “Let those 400 people provide us land and by golly, we’ll build a pickleball court.”

However, eluding to the older demographic of many of the pickleball players as well as the city’s residents said many won’t be able to wait for the construction years down the line of new parks that could accommodate more pickleball courts.

“Some of us want the enjoyment today and not 10 years from now,” Anderson said. “We just need to find a way to pay for it.”

File photo of a 2017 pickleball tournament, St. George, Utah, Oct. 13, 2017 | Photo by Dave Larson Photography, courtesy of St. George City, St. George News

Johnson noted that putting a lot of emphasis on pickleball at all the city’s parks may not look good in the long-term.

“While I’m not opposed to pickleball courts, my concern is that lovely word ‘fad,’” Johnson said. “What’s popular now may not be popular later. We have other things the city doesn’t have enough of. People can come to us and say we need more frisbee golf. Are we going to end up with 50 pickleball courts and need to find new uses later?”

After that, Johnson, noting that she might have angered the pickleball supporters, joked that her e-mail address was the same as fellow council member Anderson’s.  

Council member Dennis Mehr said it shouldn’t be one sports against another.

“I don’t think it’s between soccer and pickleball or tennis and pickleball,” Mehr said. “Can we find $80000 somewhere for pickleball?”

A better Vista

Image from Google maps shows the property, shaded in blue, that was up for discussion during a meeting of the Ivins City Council on Jan. 6, 2021 | Photo via Google Maps, St. George News

A local homeowner who had her plan to turn her large single-home lot into one with several affordable housing townhomes rejected in January returned Thursday night with a new preliminary plan.

After working with her neighbors, Sally Jensen’s Vista development at 145 W. 100 South now has fewer homes but meets both the support of most of the neighbors and also met the approval of the council in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

“The applicant wanted to work with her neighbors and she sure has,” Scott says.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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