March 16, 2005 - A new way of providing emergency services in Oro Valley is being negotiated by the two service providers currently doing business in the town.
Golder Ranch Chief John Fink confirmed that Golder Ranch Fire District and Rural/Metro Fire Department are in negotiations on a public/private partnership agreement at this time. While he would not comment on specifics of the negotiations, he said it would "make sense" to have one fire provider serving the whole town, and one emergency service provider for the whole town. The two providers have not reached any agreement, but Fink said they hope to make a decision soon. If and when the two agencies come to an agreement, it will have to be approved by the Arizona Department of Health Services before it can be carried out.
There are currently two providers of fire service and two providers of ambulance service in Oro Valley.
Generally, Oro Valley residents living north of Tangerine Road receive fire service from Golder Ranch and those living south receive service from Rural/Metro, but Golder Ranch has been continuously pursuing annexations into Oro Valley over the years.
"It doesn't make sense for two providers to provide both," Fink said.
Fink also confirmed that letters had been sent to employees to fill them in on "some preliminary" details of negotiations and to quell any rumors that might be circulating among employees regarding the discussions. The letters, he said, were sent to employees of both organizations, were signed by both chiefs, and were "internal and confidential."
A copy of the letter was obtained by the EXPLORER through a public records request to Golder Ranch. In it, employees are assured that execution of any agreement reached between the two providers will take "many years," but that, if an agreement is reached, Golder Ranch will be phased into providing fire service to all of Oro Valley through Rural/Metro-supported annexation. Southwest Ambulance would then become the ambulance provider for the town, with support by Golder Ranch.
The letter also states that no jobs will be lost as a result of any agreement.
Rick Flores, Rural/Metro battalion chief and public information officer, said that while no details of the talks are being released at this time, once an agreement is reached, the details will be made public.
"We will want to get the information out to the residents of Oro Valley," he said. "Both departments will be very excited about it."
Flores said that while no deadline has been set for reaching an agreement, "talks have been progressing."
How service should be provided in Oro Valley has been debated for nearly a decade between various factions within the town, one wishing to leave things as they are, one wishing to have Golder Ranch as the sole provider of service, and still another suggesting the town form its own fire department.
In July, the council approved the annexation of the town hall into the Golder Ranch district, after years of free service from Rural/Metro. The initiative was led by council members Conny Culver and Helen Dankwerth, who both support the district being the sole fire provider for the town.
During the council election campaign early last year, four of the five new council members publicly supported Golder Ranch as their preferred fire service provider in the town. Only Kenneth "K.C." Carter said he would like to give both providers a chance to meet town performance standards
Oro Valley Council Member Terry Parish said he is aware of the negotiations going on between the two safety services providers, although he has not been privy to the details of those negotiations, and the council has not formally been made aware of the discussions.
Parish said he does support the idea of having Golder Ranch provide service to the entire town, while Rural/Metro remains the ambulance service provider.
"We need Rural/Metro in our community, but I still believe Golder Ranch should be the fire service provider for Oro Valley," he said.
"In the long run, I would like to see Rural/Metro doing all the transportation and ambulance service in the town. I think it is an area Rural/Metro can be very financially viable in."
Parish said he wanted to assure residents that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the annexation process will still have to be followed in order to incorporate new areas into Golder Ranch's coverage area for fire service.
Parish said he realizes Rural/Metro has loyal customers within the town who will not like a transition to Golder Ranch, but he said he believes the district offers the highest quality service, and if people see that, "Golder Ranch, in the end, will win out through the annexation process."
Parish said he is glad the two organizations are sitting down to discuss their issues, instead of litigating them, and hopes a solution will be reached that benefits everyone in some way.
"If they can resolve this issue in an amicable manner, I think it's good," he said.
Dankwerth said there is opposition to Golder Ranch being the primary fire service provider within Oro Valley, and said she believes much of that opposition exists within the Catalina Shadows community, where residents have been longtime Rural/Metro customers. She said she believes many of them feel that, because the company has a fire station within a mile of the community, they will have a quick response to any emergency that might happen.
"Some residents are very vocal and are not too pleased with the prospect," she said. "But in Sun City they have had Golder Ranch service for years, and the people I have talked to just love them."
Dankwerth, who lives in the Palisades, near Catalina Shadows, said she is a supporter of having Golder Ranch provide service to the entire town because she thinks it provides an overall better service.
"They both have proven track records of being good," she said. "But Golder Ranch has met or exceeded every standard set by the town."
In the Golder Ranch district, residents and businesses pay taxes for fire and emergency services based on property values. Rural/Metro provides services on an annual subscription. Those who do not subscribe are billed for services as they are required.
Dankwerth said another concern she has heard about having Golder Ranch provide fire service for the town is that as the property valuations continue to rise in Oro Valley, the bill for fire service also will rise. While she said she understands this concern, she said Rural/Metro also has raised its subscription fees.
Flores said the two agencies met with the homeowners association for Catalina Shadows a few weeks ago to discuss the negotiations and the concerns of the homeowners. He said the residents also were given only preliminary details of a possible agreement.