Commentary: Override funds put to good use for Montezuma-Rimrock Fire District

Terry Keller, Fire Chief, Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority

Terry Keller, Fire Chief, Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority

A sincere thank you to the communities of McGuireville, Rimrock, Lake Montezuma and Camp Verde.

Effective July 1, the Montezuma-Rimrock Fire District (MRFD) will no longer operate under the 2012 voter-approved five-year property tax override.

Every taxable property in MRFD will see a significant savings for fire taxes when the bills are mailed-out later this summer.

Without the override, MRFD would have had a very difficult time weathering the economic storm that was created by the real estate collapse of 2008, which ultimately resulted in significant drops in property valuations.

Over the course of six tax years, beginning in 2010, the net assessed value for MRFD decreased a staggering 64 percent (compounded).

This value is what the District relies upon to create the tax revenues it needs to operate. Initially, MRFD was forced to raise the mill rate – or tax rate – which is multiplied against the net value of every property to create the total tax levy.

But it only took two budget cycles (FY 11 &12) for MRFD to reach the statutory limit of $3.25 to maintain its operations.

By 2012, it was evident that this was not going to be enough, and the Governing Board approved placing the override on the general election ballot in 2012, which the community nearly overwhelmingly supported, as this measure passed with nearly 64 percent of the vote.

Unfortunately, this recessionary storm turned into the perfect storm, with the passage of Proposition 117. Ironically, this Arizona constitutional amendment was also passed by Arizona voters in 2012 (but did not take effect in 2015), restricted any increases to property valuations for taxation purposes to no more than 5 percent than the prior year.

For MRFD, this meant they tumbled down 13 steps into the revenue basement over five tax years, but can now only climb one step each year to get back out.

Fortunately, the override for MRFD delayed the effects of Proposition 117 for a few years, and enabled MRFD to amass some savings and effect some changes to be in a much better position today.

Interestingly, the Camp Verde Fire District also lost 46 percent of its property value during the same economic downturn, and the initial sharing of services between these two districts, followed by the eventual creation of the Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority (CCFMA) has enabled both Districts to survive and, hopefully, eventually thrive.

Here is an example of the efficiencies achieved by the creation of CCFMA: at one point, both districts individually supported fire chiefs, assistant chiefs, office managers, bookkeepers, and other clerical/receptionist staff. Camp Verde also supported a fire marshal and fleet manager/mechanic.

Today, both districts are being managed by a single Fire Chief, an Administrative Manager, and two clerical staff.

We continue to utilize our Fire Marshal for the Community Risk Reduction services for both districts, and we now outsource our fleet repairs to a local vendor at a lower annual cost than what CVFD used to spend for just their portion of the fleet.

Some of these administrative salary savings have been reinvested in additional staffing to provide better services to our communities.

We now employ three shift battalion chiefs to coordinate adequate and appropriate daily staffing, as well as to provide administrative and operational oversight to ensure that we operate effectively and safely on larger incidents.

We have also hired a number of additional firefighters to improve our daily ability to effectively and safely deal with emergencies we are called to.

In fact, with our most recent hires, we are now able to staff an additional ambulance (four instead of three).

Our staffing is also supported by part-time firefighters, or reserves, whom we utilize to help fill vacancies in our roster and to augment our daily staffing.

These reserves we share with Verde Valley Fire District, under an intergovernmental agreement, so both agencies share the costs of testing, training, and outfitting these employees with protective gear.

This arrangement saves both agencies money, as neither has to do this alone and both use these employees to fill vacancies first, before relying on hiring-back a full-time firefighter on overtime.

It is hoped that we are seeing what will be a sustained economic upturn in our area, and that this resulting growth will enable us to achieve our strategic goal of building an additional fire station to help reduce response times and hire additional staffing to handle our ever increasing call volume.

We are the second busiest agency in the Verde Valley, just behind Sedona, which has five stations compared to just our two.

In the near future, we will also need to replace some of our fleet, which seems to be constantly on the road as it responds to fires, traffic accidents, medical calls, and technical rescue incidents.

We will continue to pursue grant funds to help support some of these purchases, when applicable, as well as for other necessary equipment and training.

On behalf of the staff and Governing Board members of Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority, and the Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock Fire Districts, thank you for your past and continued support as we grow and evolve to meet your demands for our emergency services.

Terry Keller, Fire Chief, Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority

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