Mountain Vista Fire District’s board of directors last week voted to discontinue service to the Teal Blue Trail, Thornydale/Moore Road and Camino de Manana III areas effective Oct. 1. All three are areas the neighboring Northwest Fire District is offering to annex.
The three areas of Northwest Pima County had been extended fire service coverage by Mountain Vista Fire District after Rural/Metro discontinued fire service.
But, beginning Oct. 1 and until an annexation is successful, Mountain Vista will continue to respond to those areas, said board chairman Peter Archuleta, and will bill for fire service responses according to a predetermined schedule of fees.
Some area residents are concerned about what they perceive as a lack of coverage and a reticence on the part of many of the area’s property owners to sign a petition to be annexed by Northwest Fire.
Sabina Sendek, a Camino de Manana resident, said many of her neighbors are reluctant to be annexed by Northwest Fire because it would mean paying a property tax for fire protection, which they currently don’t pay, nor do they pay a subscription service for fire protection.
“There also are a lot of property owners out here who own unimproved land and refuse to sign the annexation petitions because it will cost them more in taxes for fire protection,” Sendek said.
The tax rate for Northwest Fire District is $2.46 per $100 of assessed valuation on a parcel. Northwest Fire has the closest fire station to the three areas targeted for annexation, Station 39, 12095 N. Thornydale Road at Tangerine Road.
Mountain Vista’s tax rate is $1.29 per $100 assessed valuation; its nearest station is at Shannon and Overton Roads.
Rural/Metro stopped offering subscriptions in the three areas in April, but then extended that deadline by 60 days, opting to allow Northwest Fire to annex the areas because it has stations and equipment located significantly closer than Rural/Metro.
When Rural/Metro’s subscription service ended May 30, Mountain Vista provided fire coverage for the affected areas. But in response to concerns from taxpayers about using Mountain Vista resources to benefit non-taxpaying entities, Archuleta said his board had to act.
“We have no intention of annexing those areas and let the residents know that our fire district couldn’t continue to service them in perpetuity,” Archuleta said. “We have to go by a Northwest Fire station to get to the Camino de Manana area, so from a regional fire coverage standpoint, it makes sense to have the closest station respond. It’s up to the people of the area to decide if they want to be covered by Northwest Fire.”
Of the three annexations being offered by Northwest Fire, none have concluded thus far. Carla Reece, Northwest Fire District administrative manager and annexation coordinator, said the district needs 297 property owners in Camino de Manana to agree to the annexation, but that the petitions only have 171 signatures thus far. The annexation must be filed by Dec. 14.
The Camino de Manana annexation area is about five square miles with more then 600 parcels, about 400 of which are improved parcels.
For the Teal Blue Trail annexation, Reece said 34 signatures are needed, but the district only has 14. The deadline is Oct. 26. Teal Blue Trail has 65 properties, about 60 percent of which are improved.
Northwest Fire also is trying to annex the Tangerine-Moore area in the town of Marana to provide seamless fire district coverage to pockets of the town that currently are not within the Northwest Fire coverage area. Fifty-nine signatures are needed and the district currently has 11. The annexation must be completed by Jan. 12.
Northwest Fire has an agreement with Marana to protect properties within the fire district inside the town, but there are some properties in the town that are not in the fire district, including the Tangerine-Moore area.
There is no mandate in Arizona for a fire district to respond outside of its geographic boundaries because the primary concern of a fire district is the protection of those who agreed to be in the district and pay the taxes to protect them, although fire districts can offer subscription services or charge a fee for responding to non-district call.
Jeff Piechura, Northwest Fire District chief, said that when Mountain Vista announced it would cover the affected areas, activity on the annexation petitions dropped steeply.
“After Mountain Vista announced their coverage in June, we had only one petition signature in 45 days in the Camino de Manana area,” he said. “But now, we plan to step up our efforts in all three areas, to have open houses, go to people’s homes when they can’t get out and have our firefighters canvas with homeowners in the areas.”
Piechura said Northwest Fire wants to offer the annexation area residents “every opportunity to gain service before Mountain Vista discontinues its free coverage on Sept. 30.”
If the annexations fail, Piechura said Northwest Fire would work with the property owners who do want to be annexed and form a new, smaller annexation area, even though such activity would mean added costs for the district to set up a new annexation.
“But we can’t do anything until either our fire board of directors drops the annexations or the deadlines pass,” he added.