The Northwest Fire and Rescue District board approved a tentative budget April 22 that if adopted next month would provide some homeowners a small drop in their tax rate.
Under the $16.4 million budget package proposed by NWFD Chief Jeff Piechura, the proposed tax rate would decline slightly from $2.36 to $2.33 per $100 of assessed valuation. The district's current budget is slightly more than $15 million, and would expand by 8.9 percent if approved.
Piechura estimates a homeowner with a home valued at $100,000 would pay about $233.84, or about $2.27 less than the previous year. He cautioned the board that homes in the district that have received an increase in valuation by the Pima County Assessors Office may still see an increase, and offered his own home as an example.
"My home had had a value for tax year 2003 of $91,280. In tax year 2004, my home value increased 12.3 percent to $104,970. My fire district tax for 2003 was $215.52 and the estimated tax would increase by $24.94," Piechura said.
The board questioned only a few minor items before unanimously approving the package, and none of the citizens in attendance at the meeting commented on the proposal. The board scheduled a public hearing and a possible vote to finalize the budget for May 27.
If approved, the adopted tax rate would go into effect in September.
Piechura characterized the proposed budget for the 125,000 residents the district serves as offering "a balance to maintaining and enhancing public safety to our community and yet allows for a tempered decrease in the overall tax rate."
The tentative budget included $1.1 million carried over from the current budget to pay for land purchases, construction and station house remodeling in the Marana area. The budget also includes:
The addition of 13 new firefighter positions at a cost of $139,096 for the year. The addition of the employees is intended to ensure a minimum of four firefighters per station and the new staff would be hired and in place by April 2004. A new finance clerk position would also be added at a salary of $39,073.
A 5 percent pay increase for eligible employees that would cost the district $126,138.
$50,000 for new fire suppression equipment, such as infrared rescue cameras and hazardous material handling equipment.
$1.9 million on various information technology and communications equipment that would allow all 11 stations to communicate on the same computer system and provide laptop computers on all fire and rescue vehicles.
$130,000 to remodel the 13-year-old Station 33 on West Quasar Road near Magee and Thornydale roads.
$21,000 to upgrade three firefighters to paramedics. The district has one of the highest ratios of paramedics to firefighters in the district, according to district officials.
Mary Schuh, a member of the watchdog group Pima Taxpayers Association, said the proposed budget did not address a 19 cent "temporary debt service tax" the district instituted in 2000. The tax was expected to be repealed after two years and is still in place.
"That money was supposed to be given back to the people and I'm trying to find a nice word to describe it. They have misled … no, the word is they lied. They have lied to the people. They said they would give that 19 cent increase back to the people and they never did," Schuh said in an interview after the meeting. "Now they're busy plunging us into even more debt."
Schuh also said some of the obscure line items in the budget were "loaded with fat" such as telephone costs increasing $25,000, architect services increasing $10,000, and a district "retreat" budgeted at $7,000.
The Northwest Fire and Rescue District board has planned a public hearing for possible adoption of its budget for 2003-2004. The meeting is scheduled for May 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Northwest Fire District Training Facility, 8165 N. Wade Road in Marana.