A presentation by Northwest Fire District, calling for annexations of areas within the Town of Marana, resulted in a council debate during the regular meeting on Dec. 6.
In the presentation, Fire Chief Stephen Piechura detailed how specific areas within Marana town limits have been receiving services from Northwest Fire without paying for them, and why this needs to stop.
Piechura gave a brief history about Northwest’s involvement with the Town since 1996 when they entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement, which allowed them to annex more than 80 percent of the occupied residents that could legally be annexed. Because of this convoluted annexation, for all practical purposes, an “Umbrella of Coverage” has been provided to those areas in the Town that are not within the Fire District taxing authority. Specifically, what remains are clusters of residents not wishing to annex, vast acres of farmland, and undeveloped desert.
“When we provide service to areas outside of our geographic boundaries, we are essentially extending free services,” said Piechura.
In May 2011, the Northwest Fire District Board passed a resolution to phase-in those areas that are currently served outside the taxing jurisdiction via annexation offers. The intent of Northwest Fire District is to offer these areas one additional year of continued “Umbrella Coverage,” while allowing owners to accept annexation via the Parcel or Petition Annexation process.
Currently, there are four high profile, developed areas in Marana that have not annexed, which includes The Ritz-Carlton Resort, TRICO, Butterfly Mountain Ranch, and Marana Estates.
After the presentation, Council Member Roxanne Ziegler had no hesitation in supporting the fire district.
“The bottom line is that we’ve got to stop this,” she said. “I’m not in favor of some of us paying taxes, and some of us not.”
Council Member Jon Post disagreed, noting his concern is for local businesses.
“We all need to have local businesses surviving. We are not getting the support we need from the fire department for new businesses,” he said. “For this reason no way. I’m not a fan. I’m not in favor. Leave us alone.”
Post said there are underlying issues between the Northwest Fire District and local businesses that concern him.
Vice Mayor Patti Comerford, and Council Member Herb Kai said they are concerned about specific complaints they have heard from local businesses.
Piechura responded by defending Northwest Fire District’s attempts to ease these tensions by providing education for local businesses not wanting to adhere with the codes.
After the meeting, Piechura elaborated on what this education entails.
“Every day we are challenged with folks who do not want to conform with the fire code,” he said. “In response to this we try to educate these individuals through inspection, and by providing references back to the code to help people understand why compliance is important. We tell stories and show pictures, all in an effort to explain the rationale.”
Northwest Fire created the position of a “Plans Reviewer,” who works in the Business Services Offices in Town Hall. This person serves as a direct link between the fire department and those businesses and folks who have questions about the codes.
“The plans reviewer allows for a proactive relationship between business developers and Northwest Fire, and he interacts with town staff on a regular basis,” said Piechura.
Under the proposed resolution, if, after one year has passed and requisite property owners have not annexed into the Fire District, the Umbrella Coverage will expire.
After the council debated the issue for more than an hour during the Dec. 6 meeting, Mayor Ed Honea reminded the council that it was only a presentation, and they needed to move forward with the agenda.
In other business, the town council also acknowledged Marana Police Officer Mike Henry, who recently retired after serving Marana for 15 years.
“Mike has made a great impact on our community,” said Honea.