Tue, June 18

Editorial: Wisdom of taking ‘baby steps’ obvious in fire district merger

We’ve been hearing for years about the economy of scales benefits, or lack of, in merging our local school districts into a single unified operation.

While that debate continues to rage, there has been considerable progress made toward more efficient emergency service operations in the Verde Valley thanks to consolidations of various fire agencies.

Such mergers are not without the same kind of political turf wars that plague school district consolidation. But in many ways they are much easier to accomplish because of long-standing automatic aid agreements between all the fire agencies in the Verde Valley.

Those agreements have necessitated a uniform training program for local fire agencies, and an agreed-upon plan of action when circumstances dictate mutual agency response to an emergency situation.

That certainly helped in paving the way to mergers that have seen the former Verde Rural Fire District merge with both the Cornville-Page Springs and Clarkdale fire districts into today’s Verde Valley Fire District.

The same has been happening with a series of “baby steps” over the past two years on the east side of the Verde Valley with the Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock fire districts.

Terry Keller, who serves as chief for both fire districts, has methodically merged the two agencies into a single well-oiled machine through a joint powers agreement. Keller’s plan involved political overkill by allowing for fire boards for the two districts to continue to exist, but at the same time work in concert with a third unified fire board for the Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority, the overseeing agency for the Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock fire districts.

That was quite a gamble for Mr. Keller. It’s tough enough for any kind of government administrator to keep one governing board satisfied, but in his case Keller was juggling the personalities and political whims of three different governing boards.

Somehow, he did it, and in the process seems to have everyone on the same page that it’s time to do away with the “baby steps” and have the separate boards and jurisdictional red tape of the Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority, Camp Verde Fire District and Montezuma-Rimrock Fire District merged into a unified, single entity.

The boards of the two fire districts held separate public hearings on the merger this week and it appears to be but a formality that this well-orchestrated courtship will be consummated in the next few months, if not sooner.

For those looking for comparisons between the successful fire district mergers we’ve seen in the Verde Valley with the consolidation of school districts, it’s important to remember that we are dealing with a completely different dynamic.

With our local fire district consolidations, the road to success was paved with willing partners. Both sides saw and agreed to the need and value of a merger.

There was no need for a shotgun at these weddings.