WEST JORDAN -- City officials are exploring a tentative proposal to split the city's Public Safety Department into separate police and fire departments.
During a study session Friday, the council asked public safety director Kenneth McGuire to examine options on splitting the department and report back regarding costs and other factors in February.The proposition, which has the support of most West Jordan firefighters, would leave McGuire as police chief but require the city to hire a fire chief.
McGuire said local residents would not see a difference in the level of police and fire protection because of the change.
But there are differences of opinion whether the separate departments would be more efficient than a consolidated department where public safety officers are cross-trained in both police and firefighting skills.
"We're already running both services at good levels and would not change," said McGuire. "Nor would we lay anyone off."
A city-appointed public safety task force considered the issue last year as part of an intensive six-month study of the city's police, fire, animal control and emergency medical services needs.
When its report was issued last August, the task force recommended the city stay with the public safety officer format it has employed for many years, where additional pay is given for employees trained in both police and fire safety techniques.
Robert Money, a former city councilman who chaired the task force, said committee members concurred there was no reason to fix something that isn't broken and questioned whether separating departments would be worth the associated costs.
"I think there are a lot of advantages either way," said Money, who indicated that consolidated departments with cross-trained personnel seem to work best in smaller cities.
"But once you become a bigger city, they (police and firemen) start to conflict with one another, and it causes problems," he said. "That's why it's sort of coming to a head out here -- West Jordan has just hit that size."
Councilman Gordon Haight, who served on the committee, said the report still leaves the decision on whether to divide the public safety department in the hands of the council.
While city officials may be leaning toward separation, he said, "the key is to support the departments, whatever we decide to do."
Council members agreed to reconsider the matter in December after receiving a letter from 40 of West Jordan's 45 firefighters who would prefer to see the departments function autonomously.
They maintain that rapid city growth and expanding responsibilities for both police and fire divisions have made it increasingly difficult for the current public safety director to represent both divisions adequately.
In addition, they contend police and fire safety are becoming increasingly technical fields, making it difficult for police to master a high level of firefighting skill and equally hard for firefighters to become skilled in police work.
The council did not seem opposed to having separate departments, but Councilman Brian Pitts said he doesn't want to vote on separation without more information on the bottom-line costs.
One major expense, if the city decided to divide its consolidated department, would be salary and benefits for a new fire chief.