By Mark Seethaler, South Jordan City Council
“It is not an arrogant government that chooses priorities; it’s an irresponsible government that fails to choose,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. With just a simple click on the South Jordan city website the current strategic priorities set by our city council can be viewed. From the online introduction we read: The City has long honored its commitment of maintaining outstanding programs and services to the community… a conservative approach to budgeting… providing excellent customer service.”
Where we start and stop with programs, services, taxing and spending is increasingly guided by our council-driven priorities. This is complemented by a priority-based budget initiative underway with City Manager Gary Whatcott and Finance Director Sunil Naidu - a completely new look at how we address what matters most within our available resources. For starters, what matters most is providing essential services.
Fire it up
Fire Chief Chris Evans is now retired, but his legacy will long benefit our city and residents. He began his career more than 31 years ago with West Jordan City, then was hired as an operations battalion chief by our fair city in 2001, and was appointed to serve as our fire chief in January 2006. During his tenure our department has matured and there hasn’t been a single fire-related fatality within our city. We are deeply grateful for Chief Evans’ service and wish him and his family much happiness.
On Dec. 16, former Fire Battalion Chief Andy Butler, was sworn in as our new fire chief. We congratulate Chief Butler and wish him the best, together with our complete department of 48-strong professional firefighters and paramedics. But wishing isn’t enough. We must prioritize our fire and paramedic services to meet the demands of our city which is among the top five fastest growing (more than 50,000 in population) in the U.S. the past two years.
In Chief Butler’s words “The greatest challenge facing the fire department is managing growth within the city and the department in a way that is fiscally responsible and allows us to maintain a service level that is consistent with what the community expects from its fire department. Balancing these two things - fiscal responsibility and service level demands will take collaboration between many stakeholders including residents of the city, the mayor and city council, city administrative staff, fire department administration and members.” Not only do I agree with our new chief, but I am impressed with his collaborative approach.
Growing Up by the Numbers
We’re a much different community than we were in the late 1800s, when fires were fought with a water barrel, a wagon and buckets. In fact, we’re much different than we were at the turn of the most recent century with 29,000 residents in the year 2000. Now in 2014, our population is more than 62,000 – almost double when the fear of ‘Y2K’ was keeping us awake at night.
The City of South Jordan established its own fire department in 1977, and dedicated Fire Station 61 (10758 S. Redwood Road) in May 1995. Then, 13 years ago in December 2001, Fire Station 62 was dedicated at 4022 W. South Jordan Parkway. Since that time, the number of housing units in our city has increased from 8,000 to 18,000 - plus a comparable expansion in nonresidential buildings. Emergency responses totaled 1,417 in 2001 but increased to 3,650 last year.
More Fuel to Stop the Fire
Despite more than doubling our population, our buildings and our emergency responses, growth in fire personnel is less than 50% - from 33 to 48 since 2001. Our fire chief is proposing a third fire station to meet service commitments. We own the proposed site on 1000 West; build-out will cost approx. $3.5 million. I am committed to our strategic priorities, our priority-based budgeting, and collaborative effort to address all requirements of public safety and public works – without which little else matters.
We thank Chief Chris Evans for his legacy, which includes his leadership to:
Develop, train, and equip an urban search and rescue team, including structural collapse, confined space, water, ice, high/low angle, and machinery entrapment.
Develop, train, and equip a hazardous materials team.
Acquire and stage two trailers with supplies to assist with surge capacity associated with a mass casualty incident.
Obtain an exclusive license for all ground ambulance service within our city.
Increased revenue through the expansion of ground ambulance service to include all inter-facility transfers from the new University of Utah Medical Clinic.
We sleep ‘safe and sound’ thanks to our city safety and public works employees – and thank them all at the dawn of the New Year. May it be a safe and prosperous time for all who live, work, and visit our ‘best places to live’ in America.