VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 5   | FEBRUARY 2 – 8, 2011


Divided council votes against placing property tax on May ballot

‘If citizens want to put it on the ballot they can’

fire protection meetingWhether or not a property tax should be imposed for fire protection appeared more an ideological issue with citizens. Some believed it was a more fair and equitable way to pay while others prefered to subscribe voluntarily without government mandates or intervention.  Photos by Linda Bentley

CAVE CREEK – During the Jan. 31 special council meeting, council voted 4-3 against a resolution, with Mayor Vincent Francia and councilmen Jim Bruce and Steve LaMar voting in favor, to place a measure on the May 17, 2011 ballot to let citizens decide whether or not they want to pay for fire protection services through a property tax instead of by subscription.

Town Manager Usama Abujbarah said the issue goes back to 2008 when the mayor appointed a citizens advisory committee to review the matter.

The committee came back with four recommendations, which included the town entering into a master contract for fire protection to start in FY 2013, to be paid for by property tax when the Spur Cross tax expired.

When asked what the urgency was, Abujbarah said there are time constraints to place this on the May ballot and May is the only month when a property tax initiative could be presented to voters.

Councilman Ralph Mozilo wanted to know where the $1.3 million figure came from, if there was a spread sheet showing what it included and if the town had a binding contract with Rural/Metro.

Abujbarah said there was no binding contract with Rural/Metro.

Councilman Adam Trenk asked if the tax were to go to the ballot and it were to pass, if the $1.3 million contract would go to an RFP (requests for proposals).

Town Attorney Marlene Pontrelli said that was correct and clarified by saying the town would design the RFP to be for an amount not to exceed $1.3 million.

Abujbarah said the proposal was for operations only and any infrastructure would need to be addressed separately.

Trenk asked what the hurry was to get this done now.

Abujbarah said it was to provide an affordable and fair means of paying for service, and was requested by about 50 citizens.

According to Abujbarah, citizens asked for coverage to start in 2013 and there were only two elections, 2011, if council voted to place it on the ballot and 2012 if they had to do an initiative.

Pontrelli confirmed the taxes levied for fire protection could only be used for that purpose.
When Bruce asked what the Spur Cross tax brought in, Town Accountant Marian Groeneveld responded, “$1.3 million.”

Bunch asked Abujbarah, “Would you be surprised if I told you subscriptions are at 59.21 percent as of January 2011?”

Councilman Dick Esser said he had the same numbers as the vice mayor, only the number of subscribers comes to 59.29 percent.

Esser asked when the Spur Cross tax expired.

Abujbarah responded, “June 30, 2012.”

Esser asked, “Can we do it in 2014?”

“We can do it any time,” replied Abujbarah, adding “Citizens asked to start in 2012.”

LaMar asked about the disparity in subscription numbers, which Abujbarah indicated was 43 percent while Bunch and Esser claimed it was 59 percent.

Abujbarah insisted 43 percent was correct and the figures Bunch and Esser received were missing 1,500 lots.

Trenk argued multiple lots could be under single ownership and contract with Rural/Metro.

Bunch noted the substantial increase under a tax system for vacant land, which Rural/Metro indicates has a 94 percent subscription rate, as it would become based on valuation instead of the current fee of $74 for the first acre and $1.50 for each additional acre.

Pointing out 60 to 65 percent of Rural/Metro’s calls are medical in nature, Bunch asked if it made sense that vacant property owners should pay so much more while getting so much less.

During public comment, Herb Natker, who opposed the measure, suggested the town wait a couple of years to see if Walmart will produce enough tax revenue to pay for fire protection.

David Smith, an Estado de Cholla resident, urged council to approve placing the matter on the May ballot.

Wes Cooper said he was also in favor of the issue going to voters in May.

Ted Bryda said he wasn’t against fire protection or Rural/Metro but didn’t believe council had sufficient financial information.

Also opposed, Gary Kiernan asked, “Since when did government interfere between citizens and a private company?” Kiernan advocated “less government, less taxes and less control.”

scott dahne
Scott Dahne spoke in opposition to the town placing a question on the May ballot for voters to decide if they wanted to pay for fire protection with a property tax instead of by subscription and asked, “Why does this concern the town?”

Scott Dahne said, “I do not support this tax,” and asked, “Why does this concern the town?” He also stated Cave Creek has less than two fires per year.

Ted Ferris supported the measure, insisting it was a matter of public safety, and stated it was a “more equitable, more sustainable and more efficient” way of paying for fire service.

Rural/Metro Fire Chief John Kraetz said he wanted to clear up the 43 percent subscription figure and stated the town manager was given old numbers believed to be accurate at the time. Since then, he said Rural/Metro has gone to a new computer system, which provides “real-time” data, and stated 59.29 percent was the correct subscription rate for the town.

Bob Moore stated he supported the measure “in practice” but stated the town was “woefully short” on facts.

Bruce, who moved to pass the resolution to place the tax question on the ballot, stated, “We’re here to decide if citizens should decide. If citizens don’t want a property tax, they’ll tell us.”

LaMar, who seconded the motion, said he didn’t see this as “imposing ideological underpinnings” and stated, “I choose to make it easier for citizens to vote on the issue.”

Trenk said he didn’t have a problem with sending decisions to a vote but stated there was “not a lot of handwringing that we need this now.”

Esser stated, “I still don’t have enough information. We would be sending it to the ballot … no public hearings and you’re on your own.”

Mozilo stated, “Someone said a promise made should be a promise kept. I can’t support this.”

He said Spur Cross needed to come off the property tax rolls first but stated he still didn’t have enough information. “What does $1.3 million mean? Too much information is missing. If citizens want to put it on the ballot they can.”

“Property taxes are forever,” said Bunch, who felt the same as Mozilo – there was not enough information.

Francia said he had the “utmost faith” in this town that when they vote they know what it is they’re voting for.

While stating a person’s home is sacred ground, Francia believed the citizenry deserved the opportunity to vote on the issue.

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