VERDE VALLEY – It’s been two-and-a-half years since the Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority was born, an agreement by the Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock fire districts.
Tuesday, the governing boards of the two fire districts each voted unanimously to consolidate the two districts into one district, a marriage with no possibility of divorce.
The reason for the Joint Powers Agreement, then the resolutions to merge, was that two fire districts would share services and reduce administrative redundancies, Copper Canyon Fire Chief Terry Keller said at the time.
From the outside looking in, retired Montezuma-Rimrock firefighter and paramedic Bonnie Reay said at the Montezuma-Rimrock public hearing that the JPA the two districts signed on July 1, 2016 has yielded “nothing but improvements.”
“This is the long-term plan,” Reay said. “This benefits the public. The districts entered into a relationship. Now it’s time to get married.”
A firefighter for the past three decades, Keller said that he “would like to tell the communities that we appreciate their support and trust.”
“We will continue to dedicate ourselves to providing the best emergency services we can as a new district, just as we did as Camp Verde Fire District, Montezuma-Rimrock Fire District and Copper Canyon Fire and Medical Authority,” Keller said.
On Jan. 4, the merger will become official, as the Authority, and the Camp Verde and Montezuma–Rimrock fire districts will be dissolved.
For the money
At the Camp Verde fire board’s public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Clayton Young said that he “think[s] the Joint Powers Agreement is great,” but that he wanted to see the two districts “live with [it] for a few more years.”
“This is not sour grapes on my part,” the retired Camp Verde fire chief said. “I think they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. You don’t do this for money.”
Young also admitted that he “[didn’t] know if there is a right reason” to merge.
“I feel that this community, this government, I don’t feel that a bigger government is better,” Young said. “I don’t agree with the board making this decision. I think the citizens should have the vote. It should go to the people.”
Camp Verde Town Council member Brad Gordon attended “a lot of the meetings” connected with the merger of the Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock fire districts. Said Gordon, the merger “means a lot more efficiency for taxpayer dollars.”
Had either the Camp Verde or Montezuma-Rimrock fire board not voted unanimously to support the resolutions to merge, a public vote would have been required to consolidate, Keller said.
‘Move to the future’
At the Montezuma-Rimrock public hearing Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., Karin Krippene said her “main concern” was how “response time” would be affected with the merger.
Carol Keeton, president of the Montezuma-Rimrock fire board, said that there “should be no difference in the service, other than improvements.”
“I think the JPA really helped us,” Keeton said. “On both sides, we’ve seen how both districts have improved, how services have improved.”
The Joint Powers Agreement, Keeton also said, “was a good thing to do.”
“Now that we’ve seen this,” she said, “it’s time to move to the future.”
As the Authority and the two district’s fire boards prepare for the merger, Keller said that there are “a lot of administrative functions to address, particularly for payroll before we start.”
“New taxpayer ID number, pension accounts switched over, employee benefits, also, we will need to apply for a name change for the ambulance CON, once the name is confirmed,” Keller said. “Additionally, there will need to be a lot of contracts to re-sign, some of which might need to occur sooner rather than later.”
Ambulance CON is what Keller called the “franchise under Arizona Department of Health Services to operate ambulance service.”
Camp Verde and Montezuma-Rimrock fire districts “merged their separate CONs to [in effect] give them to the Authority, but now the name will need to be changed to reflect the new district.”
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42