Fire Coverage Advisory Committee to go on field trip

By Linda Bentley | August 13, 2008

How many people shop by sales tax when going out to dinner?
CAVE CREEK – When the Citizens Fire Coverage Advisory Committee met Monday afternoon, they were presented with a letter from Cave Creek Merchant’s Chamber of Commerce President Marc Peagler stating an emergency occurred, preventing him from attending the meeting as he had planned.

However, he wrote, “I would like to go over a few points.”

Peagler said, “It is my understanding that there is a concern in the town over the number of businesses that are subscribers with Rural/Metro. The concern, in reality is that less than 50 percent and closer to one-third is the actual number (of subscribers). From my point of view the answer is very simple. The cost.”

According to Peagler, when Rural/Metro lost its contract with the city of Scottsdale it needed to do something to recover revenue and opted for the simplest solution; raise rates in the outlying areas, which included Cave Creek.

He said the way he was able to justify his statement was simple, “[W]hen we received our bill for Frontier Town after Scottsdale cancelled its contract, it had almost doubled,” citing there was no explanation behind the sudden jump in rates.

“What I think is interesting,” said Peagler in the fourth paragraph, “is the admission by every single fire captain stationed here for as long as I have worked here … ‘We will never try to save any part of Frontier Town, we will simply go defensive and let it burn.’ So, the question becomes, ‘Why are we paying for protection that God forbid we need, but we will never get?’ The answer is so we don’t get hit with a million dollar firefighting bill.”

Peagler stated he was in favor of the town having its own fire service “or contracting out to anyone other than Rural/Metro,” and said he favored a very low property tax over a sales tax increase, since the town was already a little high in that area.

fireprotectioncommitteeRural/Metro Battalion Chief John Kraetz countered Peagler’s allegation, and, referring to the fourth paragraph said, “That’s not correct. In areas we protect, we go in and put out the fire.”

Kraetz also said firefighters have no way of knowing, when they respond to a fire, who is a subscriber and who is not. An entirely different department deals with that.

Luther Moorehead, Rural/ Metro’s Manager of Fire Operations for Maricopa County, said Rural/Metro instituted about a 22 percent rate increase in 2005 because their rates were under market value for some time and the increase had nothing to do with the city of Scottsdale.

A committee member asked how much more commercial was than residential.

Moorehead responded, “It’s substantially more,” and said there are three categories of subscription rates, residential, commercial and vacant land.

For example, he said the commercial base fee is $853 for the first 1,000 square feet and $0.0265 per square foot thereafter. Accordingly, he said the cost for a 5,000 square-foot commercial building would cost $1,913 annually.

Residential is based on square footage, with the first tier for up to 1,399 square feet costing $202 annually.

A committee member wanted to know if Carefree’s contract with Rural/Metro was based on the aggregate total of subscribers.

Cave Creek Town Manager Usama Abujbarah said Carefree negotiated the price of the contract with Rural/Metro and said typically contracts are negotiated based on how much it costs to provide the service plus reasonable profit.

Kraetz indicated the rate wasn’t based on the same criteria as subscription fees and said Carefree determined a 1 percent increase in sales tax would cover the $1.2 million per year plus 4 percent annual increases.

Responding to a question about why over 50 percent of businesses in town are not paying their subscriptions to Rural/Metro, Sonoran News Publisher/Editor Don Sorchych said, “I don’t know. It’s a subject that’s never come up” at chamber meetings.

However, Sorchych said he did look into whether or not Sonoran News’ landlord had been paying for fire protection, only to learn he has not.

He also mentioned the 1 percent sales tax increase was a very controversial subject in Carefree – making tourists pay for it, and said, “I can tell you it’s not popular.”

Reg Monachino, who was chairing the meeting, questioned how many people shop by sales tax, when going out to dinner or drinks, and said, “If I were buying a Mercedes Benz, it would make a difference,” but not going out to eat.

Adam Trenk wanted to know, if the other 50 percent of the property owners were to subscribe, where that money would go.

Kraetz said the town will eventually need another fire station on the southwest side of town.
Using an estimated cost of between $1.2 and $1.4 million for a master contract for fire protection services with the town through Rural/Metro, Abujbarah said it would cost about the same as what people are currently paying for Spur Cross in property tax.

Based on his own property, Abujbarah said his subscription to Rural/Metro currently costs $1,045. If the town were to enter into a master contract with Rural/Metro and impose a property tax, he said his cost would be about $627.

His cost, if the town decided to annex into the Daisy Mountain Fire District, would be approximately $3,000 per year, which would probably be reduced somewhat by the increased valuation being added to the fire district.

However, it was pointed out, Daisy Mountain bases its fees on secondary assessed property valuation, regardless if there is a building on the property or not.

According to Kraetz, there is no way to decrease response times to four minutes in Cave Creek other than by building more fire stations. He said, “You have to assess your risk … you’d have to build a lot of fire stations.”

A representative from Daisy Mountain Fire will be conducting a tour for the committee at the regional dispatch center in Phoenix on Friday, which he said will probably clear up a lot of questions committee members asked about Mutual Aid and Automatic Aid.

Photo caption: When the Fire Coverage Advisory Committee met on Monday, they reviewed the allegations about Rural/Metro made by Cave Creek Merchant’s Chamber of Commerce President Marc Peagler via letter to the committee, which were addressed by Battalion Chief John Kraetz.
Photo by Linda Bentley