San Manuel Miner
On a slim 3-2 vote, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved the impact statement of the proposed Pinal Rural Fire Rescue & Medical District (PRFR&M) that will serve a primarily rural area of eastern Pinal County between Dudleyville and Mammoth.
Organizers of PRFR&M now have until August 5, 2015 to collect signatures equivalent to 50 percent plus one of all homeowners within the proposed district’s boundary to bring it into being as a special taxing district. According to retired Rear Admiral Steve Turcotte, chairman of the organizing committee, the necessary signatures could be collected as early as next February.
Boundaries of PRFR&M would be the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Dudleyville on the north, the Pinal County border on the east, San Manuel on the south, and Oracle and Mammoth on the west. The district includes Aravaipa Canyon, with State Route 77 the main road through the district.
PRFR&M would replace Pinal Rural Fire & Rescue, a nonprofit volunteer fire department funded by subscribers, donations and grants that currently serves the area. This differs from for-profit firms like Rural/Metro that sell its services only through subscribers.
All fire equipment currently owned by this firm would be transferred to the new district, thus eliminating the need to take on loans to acquire equipment from scratch while enabling the fire district to operate from the day one, Turcotte said. This differs, he noted, from the proposed San Tan Valley Fire & Medical District which, when it comes into being, would start with no equipment or a fire house and have to acquire everything.
Once passing the legal muster as a special taxing district, funding for PRFR&M would come from a share of the Arizona Fire District Assistance Tax and from local property taxes. According to Turcotte, residents of the district would on average pay an additional $31 a year in property tax for fire suppression and first responder medical emergency services.
With these funds, PRFR&M would build a second fire station on the northern end of State Route 77 to trim response times to the northern section of the district. It would also buy additional equipment needed to fight fires and tend to medical emergencies in the area, which includes much forested land. Bud Paine, chief of the current voluntary department indicated the new district would likely add fire hydrants along the more populated stretches of State Route 77.
PRFR&M would continue to operate as the only 24/7 fire-based paramedic service between Golder Ranch and Globe, Turcotte said. However for serious injuries and medical problems, patients would be sent to hospitals in ambulances from Kearny Ambulance or Southwest Ambulance/Tri-City Meds.
Overall PRFR&M would trim response times even to hikers injured in the canyon, where it currently can take 30 minutes to reach where help is needed, Turcotte told the Supervisors.
PRFR&M also will provide quicker help in fighting wildfires in the district’s most desolate areas and aid in HazMat spills resulting from trucks carrying acids serving copper mines in the area, he added.
Additional benefits of having a fire district in the area would be to lower insurance rates for most residents, a fact that developers of a proposed casino in the area would favor.
Despite nearly a dozen people expressing support for creating PRFR&M at the Board of Supervisors meeting, there also were some naysayers lead by fire officials of adjoining districts.
San Manuel Fire Chief John Stanford argued that the new rural district wasn’t needed to handle only 85 calls a year as the current volunteer fire operation was handling.
“The proposed district covers too big a territory to provide benefit for all who live in it. Creating the district will only set it up for failure while imposing new taxes on residents of that economically depressed area,” Stanford said.
He added that the San Manuel could cover the fire and medical emergency needs of part of the district as it proposed in 2012 when the Supervisors rejected its proposal to annex some of the territory north of town. Stanford called for the Supervisors to reject the PRFR&M impact statement and allow San Manuel to refile its annexation proposal.
Fred Sanchez Jr. on the Mammoth fire board and Olivia Morales of the Dudleyville fire board also complained that creation of PRFR&M would stifle the expansion plans of their fire districts and towns. This prompted Supervisor Todd House to counter that the Board should do what is best for residents in the proposed district territory now rather than what might happen in five years.
Sanchez and Morales also complained the Fire Chief Bud Paine, who heads the current volunteer operation and would likely be chief of PRFR&M, seems to get along with nobody. They complained of Paine seeming more interested in protecting his turf than in working with other fire battalions answering a call, and used salty language to get his point across.
This was seized upon by Supervisor Pete Rios who moved that the PRFR&M impact statement be rejected but allow organizers to refile in six months once Chief Paine could prove he could work with personnel from adjoining districts. That measure was defeated.
Subsequently the PRFR&M impact statement was approved with Chairman Anthony Smith and Supervisors Todd House and Stephen Q. Miller voting in favor; and Supervisors Pete Rios and Cheryl Chase voting against.
Turcotte was pleased, stating he will get the petitions circulating as soon as possible. He noted that owners of many Bed & Breakfast inns in the Aravaipa Canyon area are eager to sign.