Fire District threat

An open letter to America's news media
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don sorchychI hope everyone didn’t go to sleep after the election, which decimated the idea of a property tax to pay for fire protection.
There are still forces at work to get a property tax paid fire district here.

It may come as a surprise to Cave Creek citizens, if a petition drive collects a majority of property owners’ signatures, a fire district could be formed. Although the property tax zealots lost 2 to 1, some believe they could convince a majority.

The key players are former Councilman Attorney Adam Trenk, Attorney Lee Miller and consultant John Flynn of PolicyLogic, LLC. These three lobbyists have met with Mayor Vincent Francia.

Flynn has promised to develop, with Miller, preliminary cost and revenue projections.

You may remember Trenk served as treasurer on the PAC which suggested a NO vote. However, Trenk never castigated property tax as a means of getting fire protection. He just criticized the town’s plan as being inadequate. Trenk is still a major player in the fire issue when he isn’t pushing medical marijuana. In fact, when he ran for council and won by a card draw, he asked for and got fire fighter union support. One reason was they knew he was a member of the fire committee. It didn’t bother his union supporters that his presence on council and on the fire committee represented a conflict of interest.

Miller, whose practice is all about fire districts, sent out a two page letter to many government affairs and public relations specialists. Obviously he is seeking the support of politicians in both parties.

He began with a review of the Cave Creek fire situation. He ended the paragraph with these statements: “In Cave Creek something under 50 percent of the property owners actually pay the fee. The number who pay is declining over time. At some point R/M [Rural/Metro] will pull out because they can’t afford the fixed costs of staffing a fire station with ever declining revenues.”

That is a self serving statement. It is unlikely that enough decline will happen to force R/M to leave while Carefree is an area anchor for R/M.

Lee then explained the current situation and wrote that the tax proposal failed because no one outlined what the $1.3 million would buy and repeated R/M could be forced to leave.

He mentioned a meeting with Francia that was called by Adam Trenk to discuss what is next vis a vis fire. Francia said anything called a tax is problematic and that owners of undeveloped land could torpedo any fire tax proposal.

Francia favored the same idea as Paradise Valley, which is to impose a fee on every water meter to pay for fire.

There is a big problem with that idea. Cave Creek has about 600 customers with water meters that don’t live in Cave Creek. There are also about 500 homes in Cave Creek that are on wells.

Miller essentially says the payment, however it is made, needs to be property tax based. He said if Walmart, for example, were taxed on the basis of the meter as residential customers would, it wouldn’t take into account their ability to pay more than residences. He says Walmart would be paying “a big chunk of fire protection for the town. The commercial property owners will be subsidizing the cost of fire for residential owners – that’s the Arizona way.” No, it isn’t the Arizona way, it is the lobbyist way.

Somehow Miller is has forgotten the recent election where twice the number of voters said NO to a property tax.

Even though there are few parallels between Cave Creek and Paradise Valley [PV], Miller and his co-lobbyists are pursuing a joint effort between the two towns.

Lee writes, “We are working with the town of PV on a piece of legislation for next session that would authorize the creation of Municipal Fire Districts.

“Upon creation the town council serves as a fire district board and the town staff becomes the Fire District staff. This is similar to library, flood and stadium districts.

“District is created upon written approval (petitions) of 50 percent +1 of commercial property owners and 50 percent + 1 of residential property owners. This is different than typical fire district law, where creation is by petitions from everyone. Problem is that there are too many residential property owners to effectively gather petitions.

“District may not have any employees, incur any capital expenses or take on any debt.

“District is funded by a property tax.

“Yes, the funding still comes in the form of a property tax and some people will bust a gut anytime those words are spoken. But our scenario is a lot more cost effective for the typical property owner than any alternative.”

Oh yeah? How about owners of undeveloped land? We have abundant land in that category, and PV does not. I also wonder how businesses will feel since they would pay most of the fire protection cost. Walmart? Harold’s?

Under “opportunities” Lee writes: “Helping out advocating for necessary legislation next session.
Running the campaign that will be required to get property owners to approve whatever path the town chooses.

“What I am looking for? Cave Creek to join up with PV and potentially others to support and advocate for creation of municipal fire districts next legislative session?” And likewise, since four members of Cave Creek council essentially voted for a property tax it is not too soon to lobby council members to vote against a fire district.