After supporting Golder Ranch Fire District as her choice for sole provider of fire services in Oro Valley during her election campaign, one council member has moved to bring the fire service to Town Hall.
Councilmember Conny Culver said she requested to have the potential annexation of the Town Hall complex placed on the July 21 agenda, with support from Councilmember Helen Dankwerth, because "it's time to make a decision and move forward."
Dankwerth also said during the campaign she wanted GRFD to provide fire service to the town.
Mayor Paul Loomis said the item should be on an amended agenda for the meeting.
Town Hall currently subscribes to Rural/Metro Fire Corp. For the past two years, the company has not charged the town an annual subscription fee, according to public information officer Bob Kovitz. In 2001-2002, the town was charged $1,600 and in 2000-2001, $1,500. There was no charge in 1999-2000.
Generally, Oro Valley residents living north of Tangerine Road receive fire service from GRFD and those living south receive service from Rural/Metro.
Culver said over the past six years, numerous reports have pointed to Golder Ranch to provide this service to the town; however, a decision has never been made.
How service should be provided in Oro Valley has been debated for nearly a decade between different factions within the town, one wishing to leave things as they are, one wishing to have Golder Ranch as the sole provider of service and still another suggesting the town form its own fire department.
In a report released by the blue ribbon committee formed to address the fire service issue in June of last year, it was recommended the town have one provider - its own fire department.
However, several options were presented by the committee, comprised of town staff, as to how to move forward toward one provider. They included expanding the Golder Ranch Fire District through annexation to include Rural/Metro's existing service area or forming a new district that would take in only the area of town served by Rural/Metro.
The report notes, however, that the Golder Ranch annexation alternative could take a significant amount of time. In addition to requiring the signatures of a majority of the property owners, those names must represent a majority of the annexed area's assessed valuation and approval by a majority of the registered voters in the area.
The committee also stated the town could adopt performance standards and require any service provider to be licensed. In that way, the town would be able to address issues of quality and consistency of services.
When asked, in a questionnaire from the Northwest EXPLORER, during the election campaign what should be done about the future of fire service in the town, four of the five new council members responded in favor of Golder Ranch providing services solely. Councilmember Kenneth "K.C." Carter said he thought both organizations should be given a chance to meet the performance standards set by the town.
Culver said she thinks the people ought to decide who their fire service provider is, but choosing Golder Ranch for Town Hall, "sends the message that we want the absolute finest."
She said her intentions in asking that the annexation be put on the agenda are to "do the responsible thing as the first step to protect the employees and people in Town Hall."
She said it is not for the town to decide who should provide services elsewhere, and she does not advocate the use of the council's authority to make a blanket decision for all residents. She said while the annexation process is a lengthy one, she believes each homeowner should have the chance to sign a petition and have his or her voice heard.
"I personally, at my home, when Golder Ranch knocks on my door with a petition, I will sign it right away," she said.
Golder Ranch Fire District Chief John Fink said annexing Town Hall "just came up" about three weeks ago when he was approached by some of the council members and asked about the potential to annex the complex.
He said annexation of the complex did not Copper Creek was annexed, making Town Hall contiguous. In Arizona, a fire district must border the area it wishes to annex.
He said the Golder Ranch Fire District continues to annex areas both inside and outside Oro Valley, as it has throughout the years. Fire service has been in discussion in the town, but as far as future plans to continue that process, he said nothing is set in stone.
"Our plans are whatever the people's plans are," he said, explaining that to annex an area, the district must have a petition signed by the majority of the property owners there.
Often, he said, the district will be invited to explain its services to a homeowners association or other group of residents, and then they will decide whether to initiate the petition process.
A1995 ordinance passed by the town does require a fire district have the town's approval if the territory it is looking to annex is within the town limits.
Differences in the levels of service provided by Golder Ranch and Rural/Metro, as well as differences in costs, accountability and governance have all been discussed as reasons for needing a change.
In the Golder Ranch Fire District, residents and businesses pay taxes for fire and emergency services based on property values. Rural/Metro provides services on an annual subscription. Those who do not subscribe are billed for services as they are required.
The issue of how service should be provided has gone unresolved for years, Dankwerth said.
"I think it was a situation where we were pretty well covered," she said of having two providers protecting the residents and so not having to make any immediate decisions.
Dankwerth said she is not aware of any timeline set by council to decide what the town should do about fire services, although she said, "it is an issue I would like to see resolved as soon as possible as it is in the best interests of the citizens of Oro Valley."
The blue ribbon panel also recommended standards now being advocated by the town and said any provider operating in town should meet those standards.
The possible adoption of those service standards also will be on the agenda at the July 21 meetings. The standards are being proposed for a six month pilot period.
Dankwerth said while Golder Ranch "meets or exceeds all standards" set by the town, Rural/Metro has not yet met those same standards. She said she still would support Golder Ranch as the town's sole fire service provider for those reasons.
Culver said it is important to adopt the standards because without them, the town is allowing unsafe practices to stand. She pointed specifically to not complying with a "two in two out" Occupational Health and Safety Administration requirement that would have two firefighters inside at the scene of a fire and at least two outside.
Rural/Metro is working toward meeting that requirement and recently added a person to its station in Oro Valley, according to Josh Weiss, a Rural/Metro spokesman. He said it is part of the company's long-term plan to eventually have four firefighters on every truck.
Station 76 at Oracle and Magee has gone to a four-person crew and Station 74 at Swan and Sunrise will move to four in mid-August.
He said by making this change, the company will be able to work with neighboring fire companies in the future "without any concerns."
Weiss said Rural/Metro was "still reviewing" the performance standards and could not comment on company plans to meet the other standards.
Golder Ranch does have some work to do on meeting all of the standards; however, Fink said they do meet the majority already. He said they have had four firefighters responding to all calls since July 1.
There is one standard requiring firefighters arrive at the scene within five to six minutes of receiving 90 percent of all calls. Fink said while Golder Ranch can meet that standard "most of the time" there are a few exceptions. He said the district has been monitoring response times for the last six months and has been working on "turn out time," the time from the moment the call is received until firefighters are on the truck, to try to improve it. He said that is the most flexible factor in response time and on an average it takes Golder Ranch firefighters one minute.
Fink said some neighborhoods are farther than a five or six minute drive from the station, and for that reason, the district is not meeting the standard all of the time.
"For the most part, can we meet the 90th percentile? Yes, we can," he said.