Yet another attempt to create a municipal fire district within San Tan Valley was rejected on a 4-1 vote by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors during its May 6 meeting.
Although board members called the impact statement offered by the San Tan North Medical and Fire District (STNMFD) to be well researched and had a thoughtful plan for creating the firefighting service in the northern third of unincorporated San Tan Valley, they questioned the proposed start-up costs as being inadequate. As a result, only Supervisor Stephen Q. Miller voted to accept the statement.
STNMFD organizers can submit a revamped impact statement in six months, if they choose.
As proposed, the STNMFD would have covered an area of San Tan Valley bordered by Germann Road on the north, Schnepf Road and Sierra Vista on the east, Combs Road on the south, and Meridian Drive on the west.
In his presentation to the Board, Ted Stevens, the San Tan Valley realtor heading the STNMFD organizing committee, noted that the district would provide fire suppression, emergency medical services, search and rescue, and vehicle extrication from vehicle accidents. It also would provide rescues for swift water, mountain, trenching and excavation accidents. And STNMFD would work with existing private ambulance services (both air and ground) to provide reasonable response times to major medical emergencies.
A fire station would be built in the center of the district, cutting response times to fires and other emergencies to under eight minutes, Stevens emphasized. The station would be manned at all times by a captain, and engineer and two firefighters with paramedic training. STNMFD would employ 12 fire personnel working in shifts.
Once in operation, the district would work with local homeowners associations on fire prevention programs. And the district would have a Seniors Program providing blood pressure and welfare checks for residents, Stevens said.
The district would operate on an annual budget of $2,872, 630, which will be paid for with up to $400,000 from the Arizona Fire District Assistance Tax, which San Tan Valley residents pay but currently don’t benefit from, and from a property tax levy of $2.50 per $100 of assessed limited property value. And they district would be accountable to homeowners in its territory by holding monthly citizens’ meetings, Stevens concluded.
During the public hearing following Stevens’ presentation, opinions on the creation of STNMFD were mixed.
Daniel Kochuk of the Castlegate subdivision spoke in favor while chastising the Board for rejecting an earlier proposal for the San Tan Valley Fire and Medical District that would have covered all of San Tan Valley.
“Fire protection is as important as police protection. Residents shouldn’t have to subscribe to a private fire service to get fire protection and having subscribers subsidizing those who choose not to subscribe,” he said.
But a man who didn’t give his name grumbled that he moved to Pinal County in 1996 to get away from the high taxes in Maricopa County and didn’t like the idea of paying $300 more in property taxes for a fire department. He said if your house burns down, your insurance will pay for the loss.
The man was corrected by Supervisor Todd House, who noted that if you aren’t a subscriber to the private Rural/Metro service in San Tan Valley, one could be billed $20,000 if they put out even a minor grease fire in the kitchen. And insurance won’t pay for that, House said, citing his experience with the Superstition Fire District near Apache Junction.
The most damning testimony came from Court Rich of the Rose Law Firm, who argued that based on the impact statement, STNMFD would not be able to take over fire protection services in the area on Day One after organizers secure petition signatures from 50%-plus-one of homeowners. He noted that the district wouldn’t get any tax revenues before mid-2016 if they didn’t become an eligible taxing body able to make a request before the end of the year. He added that organizers had no contingencies to cover expenses until tax revenues become available, and that estimates for first year expenses were on the low side; some as little as one-third of actual costs.
This prompted additional questions from Board members.
Stevens and his fellow organizing committee member Gary Duncan argued that under their plans they would have all the necessary signatures to submit to the Board by early November, thus making the tax application deadlines. And until the tax revenues start coming in, they could take out tax anticipation loans from banks.
Duncan added that the committee had been in contact with Rural/Metro and with surrounding fire districts for coverage until the district’s fire station was ready and had the necessary equipment. Like other start-up fire districts, initial fire engines would be less expensive used vehicles until better equipment could be purchased at more reasonable prices through participation in a bulk purchase program with other districts.
Another barrier was House Bill 2110 enacted this spring and going into effect on July 3. The new law limits tax increases by all government bodies to 5% a year. As the STNMFD impact statement calls for the proposed district’s budget to rise 64% in the next five years, the district could end up operating in the red.
Stevens countered that the extra funding could be made by increases in homes in the district territory. He noted that new subdivisions were now being built in this territory.
Board members ultimately decided that budget plans in the statement had too many variables.
“If you don’t having the necessary finances, people in the district would end up in jeopardy when you take over fire services on Day One,” Supervisor Pete Rios scolded. He proposed that the STNMFD impact statement be disapproved.
All Board members voted disapproval except Miller, who argued that it should be the people living in the district who should have the ultimate say in whether the fire district be created.
Stevens expressed disappointment that the STNMFD impact statement wasn’t accepted but added that the committee felt blindsided by the enactment of HB 2110 in late March.