By Naomi Hatch
“I’m basically here for a question I’ve been asking for a long time and others have, too, and that’s why? Why isn’t there a fire district here?” asked Taylor Fire Chief Clint Burden of the Taylor Town Council May 1.
Burden told council members that they have been awesome, but as a volunteer fire department, the volunteer numbers have diminished, adding, “We’re able to maintain.”
Accompanying Burden at the meeting were Terril Kay, chairman of the Snowflake Fire Committee, and former Taylor Fire Chief Clay Wood.
About this time a year ago, the Snowflake Town Council and the Snowflake Fire Department created a committee to look into a district, and brought experts up to discuss different options with them. “I really do wish we had participated with them at the start,” said Burden.
Kay explained that they formed a committee that began meeting 10 months ago to discuss different options for the fire department. The committee includes Snowflake Councilmen Kerry Ballard and Tom Poscharsky, and five community members, including John Shuman, Greg Brimhall, Joe Bjornn, Rob Hatch and Kay. He said that they came in with a lot of doubts, but they are looking at a fire district.
Kay was present to share information that they had studied, and encouraged the Taylor Town Council to unite with them, noting that currently they help each other through fires.
Snowflake looked at different options such as asking for donations, fundraisers and fire subscriptions, and looked at other fire districts. They went to Navajo County, which they serve, as does Taylor, and there will be no reimbursement from that source. One thing the Snowflake Town Council did was begin billing for service outside the town limits.
Kay went on to explain that property owners now pay $40,000 in fire district tax and get nothing back. If there was a fire district, Snowflake residents would still pay $40,000 and get back $100,000. “That’s going to be the main concern, the taxation in this district,” he stated.
“I stand here today and tell you that’s the last thing we want for our districts,” said Kay, explaining that they want a district that has a fair and honest budget, but one that cannot get out of control. He went on to explain that under state law, a fire district can only increase its budget by five percent a year.
Kay said that if the towns unite and form a fire district, they would be controlled by one district board.
“The benefit will be the towns will keep their money, the people will get the service they deserve and the fire district will have the money to buy their equipment,” said Kay.
“I ask you to think about this, to set up a committee like our committee and we invite you to be a part of our committee and attend meetings,” he concluded.
Mayor Fay Hatch asked Wood to give his opinion.
Wood, who spent 16 years on Taylor Fire Department and several of those as chief, said, “Quite honestly, I’ve seen this coming for some time.” He noted that he had discussed this with Snowflake Fire Chiefs Will Wilson and Pat Hancock, and with Chief Burden.
“There’s a lot of things we don’t totally agree on, but it’s nice to see a community that’s doing some fact finding, that’s looking out for the community,” said Wood of Snowflake’s plan.
“There are a lot of people that really don’t know the value of the fire service until they need them,” said Wood. “Again, volunteers put their heart and soul into doing what they’re doing.” He did note that there is a delay in service because firefighters have to go to the fire station and get the apparatus before they can respond to a fire.
“A lot of folks are going to look at this in the paper and think I’ve lost my mind. At what point are we going to try and band together?” he asked, noting that there had been discussion on separating the police department.
Wood said that when he left TFD the budget was $250,000, now it is $150,000 and grants are not as readily available as they have been in the past.
“I support the idea of a feasibility study…,” said Wood. “My view is not so much to push a district, what I would like to look at is the big picture, what are the options out there. We’ve also got to look at the cost benefit, what it’s going to cost the taxpayers, the citizens and what are you going to get out of it.”
Councilman Jared Hatch acknowledged Wood’s experience with a fire district, and asked him to shed some light on the functionality of a district.
Wood explained that a fire district board would work similar to the school board, and members would be elected just like a school board. He said that Lakeside and Pinetop have certificates of necessity with fire and ambulance, which is a positive in that those on the ambulance crew are qualified EMTs, as well as fire service and wildland qualified. Show Low, Pinedale and Linden have a private ambulance.
Wood spoke briefly of the misappropriation of funds at an area fire district, explaining that the district board is responsible for the budget. He went on to say that State Senator Chester Crandall, R-Heber, is working to get a county-wide fire district formed, but noted it doesn’t look like that will make it through the legislature.
Councilman Gary Solomon said he felt that they should consolidate with Heber/Overgaard, and asked what that would do for both towns.
Wood said that Heber/Overgaard has a fire district, and Taylor and Snowflake would have to organize a fire district to consolidate with it.
“We look forward to your reply back on forming your committee and being a part of the Snowflake committee,” said Kay.
Solomon said he felt it was a good idea, but thought they should wait for the new council members to be seated.
“I see it as just an informative committee,” said Councilor Alan Ramage.
Mayor Hatch said he felt it would be appropriate to approve the committee.
Ramage moved to form a fire committee, and it was seconded by Palmer and passed unanimously.
Mayor Hatch asked Chief Burden to bring back suggested names for committee members.
By Naomi Hatch