Erin Schmidt, ESchmidt@ExplorerNews.com
Oct. 26, 2005 - La Cañada Fire District Chairman Mike Treece urged residents at a monthly meeting to consider annexation into the district.
"We've got to get a little bigger," Treece said to about 10 residents at the public hearing Oct. 17 in Oro Valley.
The La Cañada Fire District formed in 1993 and contracts with Rural/Metro Fire for fire services. Rural/Metro is a for-profit, private-sector fire agency, but it also contracts with six fire districts throughout Pima County.
The district's boundaries include Ina Road to Magee Road, La Cholla Boulevard to La Cañada Drive and Chappalla Drive from Magee Road to Northern Avenue. The district could be in danger of being swallowed up by the two largest fire districts in the Northwest, Golder Ranch Fire District and Northwest Fire District, Treece said.
Golder Ranch and Northwest fire districts have higher tax rates than La Cañada customers are currently paying, Treece said.
"That leaves us in the middle," he said. "We're not going to make it in the middle."
Golder Ranch continues to annex new land into its coverage area. In the last month, the district has more than doubled in size and continued annexations will likely happen in the future.
Most of the areas being annexed are provided fire protection by Rural/Metro through its subscription service.
In order for the La Cañada Fire District to "make it," Treece is recommending increasing the size of his district. Services for annexed residents would not change, but the way a resident pays for fire service would, said Christopher Pendleton, assistant fire chief for Rural/Metro Fire.
If La Cañada Fire District annexes, 100 percent of the annexed residents would be paying for fire service, through their taxes. As it is now, residents outside of fire district can choose whether to subscribe to Rural/Metro for fire protection. Not all do. About 80 percent of residents outside the district pay for fire services through subscriptions.
Subscription rates are determined by the square footage of the resident's home. Within the La Cañada Fire District, a $196,450 home, at the current rate of 75 cents per $100 of assessed value, would cost residents about $147. For the same home, Rural/Metro subscribers pay about $265, according to information provided by the La Cañada Magee Neighborhood Association.
For the same home, at a tax rate of $2.11 per $100 of assessed value for Golder Ranch Fire Department, the resident would pay about $414 annually for fire service. Within the Northwest Fire District, at the current tax rate of $2.48 per $100, the resident would pay about $487.
To prevent increases, which Treece said are inevitable, residents outside La Cañada Fire District should agree to be annexed and secure a lower tax rate than the other two fire districts within the Northwest, Treece said,
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
He urged residents to look at the big picture and see the advantage in saving money right now.
Within the next two to three years, Treece estimates the tax rates for La Cañada Fire District residents to cap out at about $1.25 per $100, still significantly lower than the other two fire departments, he said.
Wayne Gilbert, a La Cholla Hills resident, attended the meeting and was interested in hearing more about the possible annexation.
He has lived in the area for 15 years and sees the climate changing. He acknowledged the idea that residents need to move with the changing atmosphere.
"We can't stop change," he said.
Gilbert said the annexation is a good idea.
His neighbor, Sam Zaretsky, isn't completely sold on the idea.
He needs more time and more information before he can make a decision on the annexation, he said.
The residents of La Cañada Fire District do have time, Treece said. And ultimately the annexation is up to residents. Fifty-one percent of homeowners have to approve the annexation proposal for it to pass.
It is not time to make a decision, Treece said, but it is important to open up the lines of communication between the board, Rural/Metro and residents.
The fire district is under contract with Rural/Metro for another two years, and the board has a year to move forward with the petition for annexation.
Within that time, Treece said, he will be looking for new land and new equipment, trucks and a fire station that would belong to La Cañada Fire District.
There are no talks of annexation within the two other local independent fire districts that contract with Rural/Metro, Heritage Hills and North Ranch/Linda Vista fire districts, Pendleton said.