Rural/Metro expenses causing problems

By Curtis Riggs | May 13, 2009

$366,767 needed from general fund
CAREFREE – Town Councilmen charged with preparing the near $5.9 million 2009-10 fiscal year budget have received both good news and bad about public safety line items this year.

While the law enforcement contract for service with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is down three percent this year, town staff and the Carefree Town Council are faced with taking $366,767 from the town’s general fund to cover the contract and requested improvements for the Rural/Metro Fire Department. Carefree has paid for the near $1.166-million Rural/Metro contract by using one percent of sales tax collected in the first two years of the contract. Carefree Assistant Town Clerk Jim Keen had initially expected the need to use $143,574 from the general fund to cover Rural/Metro expenses. This figure had more than doubled by the May 5 Carefree Town Council meeting.

Rural/Metro costs amount to over 18 percent of the expenses in this year’s budget.

Included in the increase is $6,500 for new tires for the fire truck, $10,000 for gasoline in the coming year and $6,000 for water and utilities, which the Town of Carefree is obligated to pay.

Despite there being few fires in Carefree since the council adopted the master contract for fire service in 2007, Carefree pays Rural/Metro $105,392 a month for fire service. There is a four percent annual increase built into the contract – $109,608 a month next year.

Keen stated the town expected to have to use general fund money to cover the cost of the contract last year, but sales-tax revenue was high enough to cover the costs.

Sales-tax revenue is expected to continue to be down 15 percent this year. This could make using the general fund to cover Rural/Metro services a trend, the way Keen sees it.

“If the economy stays bad we will have to take some next year too,” he said.

Rural/Metro Battalion Chief John Kraetz points out water and utility usage for the building the size of the Carefree Fire Station is normal.

Concerning the need for six new tires for the fire truck, he stresses continuing maintenance is part of the contract Rural/Metro has with Carefree. The fire truck and the tires are two years old.

“The truck is very heavy and that puts a lot of stress on the tires,” he said.

He called the budget Rural/Metro officials put together this year conservative.

“We kept in mind the current economic climate and didn’t put in any of the toys we would have liked to ask for,” he said.

Carefree has held two budget workshops so far this spring. Another one is planned for Wednesday, May 27 at 5 p.m.

The council must adopt a tentative budget for the fiscal year in July with final approval in August.