Blanding City Council talks raw water sales, firefighter policies

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the Blanding City Council talked firefighter policy, raw water sales and approved a water budget adjustment for a deep well repair at their latest meeting
At their March 28 meeting, members of the council received a proposal to address firefighter policy options for the city.
In 2022, city staff reported that a financial audit made them aware that they could no longer have volunteer firefighters considered as 1099 contractors and instead must be classified as W-2 employees.
The accepted policy change by the city came with a city staff determination that current city employees could not serve as volunteer firefighters. However, policy proposals at the March 28 meeting included options to bring city staff back into the fire department.
Three policy options were presented at the meeting with option one of the current volunteer firefighter program run at an estimated cost of $39,000 annually, with volunteers paid a nominal fee regardless if they were at a scene for two hours or eight hours, and without the option of city employees working for the department. 
Option two would be a part-time paid department with volunteers on call. The policy would pay firefighters an hourly rate for both training and responses to incidents at an estimated annual cost of $43,000 with fluctuation possible depending on the number of incidents in a year.
The third option would be a part-time paid on-call department. This policy would require five firefighters on call at all times and would cost the city an estimated $91,000 annually.
Options two and three would allow city employees to work as firefighters. City Manager David Johnson highlighted that dual-employees would receive a blended rate of pay based on job duties and rank as a firefighter, and that those employees may accrue overtime hours at time-and-a-half pay. Additional restrictions and requirements were lined out in the staff report.
City staff offered support of policy option two. Fire chief Cory Spillman noted that the hourly rate of pay may help with incentivizing firefighters to be more responsive to the department’s needs.
While no official action was taken at the meeting, the council made directions to city staff to create the policy with plans to approve it effective July 1 at the start of the city’s fiscal year. 
At the meeting, Chief Spillman also gave a brief report on the March 24 house fire in Blanding. Spillman reported that the department had nine volunteers respond to the fire caused by an electrical issue. Spillman offered thanks to the multiple law enforcement agencies that assisted, including Blanding police who blocked roads and assisted in handing out water.
Johnson offered his praise of the coordination between responding agencies. “Even though the outcome wasn’t the outcome that we would want everybody was safe and that’s the most important thing.”
At the meeting, members of the council approved a $100,000 amendment to the water budget.
Needed repairs on city Well A were discovered in July of 2022. In September, the city diagnosed the repair would need a new conductor and pump. 
The emergency repairs have since been made following approval from the council with the repair costs coming in at $102,868, including costs for contractors, materials, equipment and supplies.
At their latest meeting members of the council held a public hearing and then approved an amendment to the budget with the funds to cover the repairs coming out of the Water Fund reserves.
Members of the council once again discussed a policy for raw water sales by the city. 
The City of Blanding sells raw water to the Energy Fuels White Mesa Mill from Recapture Reservoir. The mill is the only entity to purchase raw water from the city direct from the reservoir and maintain its own pipeline from the reservoir to the mill.
The mill currently can purchase up to 150-acre feet from the mill at a cost of $75 per acre-foot when water is available for the city to sell. That rate is considerably lower than the 75 percent of culinary rate that other raw water users pay for raw water out of the upper reservoirs.
A staff proposed policy would move the sale of raw water from Recapture to 15 percent of the culinary rate in city limits and 20 percent outside of city limits, with a year-to-year agreement based on water availability.
That change would more than double the rate the White Mesa Mill pays to $168 per-acre foot, for an estimated $630,000 over 25 years
At the meeting, members of the council reviewed a proposed contract from the White Mesa Mill. The Mill proposed a 10-year contract with five-year renewals. The proposed contract would raise the raw water rate to $120 per acre foot for the next five years, $130 for the following five years and a $5 increase every five years for a total of $502,500 over 25 years. The mill proposal would also include a minimum spend of $5,000 each year.
Members of the council and staff weighted the benefits with the need of a universal policy, as well as if a tiered system could fit the sale of raw water out of Recapture. City staff made plans to make tweaks to the agreement and bring it forth for discussion again.
At the meeting, Recreation Director David Palmer also highlighted that the city had received a grant for safety shade structures for the ball fields at Centennial Park.
Palmer shared that while the city still needs to complete some more tasks for the Community Development Block Grant, the eight permanent shade structures at the park will act both as a safety mechanism for foul balls, as well as provide needed shade at the city park.

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