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Cooperating, not consolidating, best way to combine services

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Often by not addressing an issue it appears there may not be a good argument to the contrary. That is why on the issue of consolidation of services in Salt Lake County I, as the mayor of West Jordan, a community that provides its own services, feel that there are some facts that have not been considered.

Let me begin by stating that I have the utmost respect for those who are promoting the idea that consolidation of both police and fire in Salt Lake County would provide better outcomes. District Attorney David Yocom, Sheriff Aaron Kennard as well as Chief Don Berry are committed professionals. However, their assertions that somehow this approach would provide safer and less costly public services needs to be examined more closely.

I cannot speak for other cities. However, I am familiar with what West Jordan has been able to accomplish within our community over the past few years. Much of this has been done quietly and without much fanfare. Our citizens have told the City Council that public safety is their No. 1 concern above everything else. Knowing that, we have made a commitment to providing the kind of service that the residents desire most.

Community policing has become a priority for us. We have a strong Neighborhood Watch program that over the past two years we have enhanced even more. The City Council, in conjunction with our Police Chief Ken McGuire, determined that by assigning an officer to each Neighborhood Watch area, much like the old concept of each officer having a "beat," it would help to bring the community closer to those who protect them. The idea was that our neighborhoods become partners with our police officers to provide a safer environment.

In addition to this, our Fire Chief Jake Nielson has worked with other fire chiefs to form the Fire Alliance. This has been a cooperative agreement among departments that allows each city as well as the county to support each other in the case of an emergency. That is why you may now see a West Valley City fire truck in West Jordan or vice versa. You have the same level of cooperation as consolidation gives you without losing local control. A similar arrangement could be worked out with the sheriff's department and all or our detective services. The only thing that has to happen is a willingness to cooperate. I can assure you, West Jordan would enthusiastically work with the other agencies to help accomplish this objective.

These are all examples of local officials deciding to implement programs that serve their constituents. Local control is important to cities. Delivery of service is what we are about. Local officials can decide what they think is best even if that means contracting for their services. They can then act accordingly without having to go to another governmental body to clear it. As far as saving money goes, what model of "bigger government being more efficient" should we use? I believe we can all think of endless examples of how this has not been true. There is no chance that one chief either for police or fire could run the whole county. There would be just as many underchiefs, but they would report to a central body instead of to the elected officials of their city.

Lastly, Salt Lake County has had some real challenges financially over the past few years due to all the annexations. I believe that city officials probably have done the best they could, but most of us are aware that the budget is suffering. The cost for delivery of service is much higher per person served by Salt Lake than in any of the local jurisdictions. Until these issues are resolved, how would consolidation then benefit residents of the individual cities?

As the debate rages on, let's remember that part of what is driving this is the shrinking base of constituents that the county serves. The men and women who work for the county are trained professionals who are wondering what kind of future they may have as we move to wall-to-wall cities. May I suggest that the kind of operation that would best serve all the residents of the county is one in which the county agencies become the support system for the local communities. Instead of fear driving these issues such as consolidation, cooperation makes county agencies invaluable to all of us. Let's work toward "functional consolidation," which allows for local control but metropolitanlike cooperation. This is a much saner approach that produces the best outcome for all involved.

Donna Evans is mayor of West Jordan.