The Northwest Fire District Board has decided to investigate the possibility of consolidating its operations with Golder Ranch Fire District.

Northwest's board voted unanimously, after a 30-minute closed session Monday evening, to move forward with an analysis of a potential consolidation of services with the neighboring fire district to its northeast.

The two fire boards have scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. this Friday, Dec. 4, when board members will have an opportunity to exchange information and the Golder Ranch Fire District board will vote on whether to move forward with an analysis for consolidation.

A location for the joint meeting was not determined as of press time, but Northwest board chair Richard Nassi said it would be somewhere large enough to accommodate the public and be easily accessible to residents of both districts.

Northwest and Golder Ranch are large fire districts covering much of Northwest Tucson. Northwest Fire District encompasses more than 140 square miles, including large sections of unincorporated Pima County north and west of the city of Tucson, the town of Marana, the Flowing Wells community, and the Tucson Mountain and Dove Mountain areas. Northwest has 192 firefighters and 10 stations, covering 125,000 residents and 1,900 commercial occupancies.

Golder Ranch Fire District covers northern Pima and southern Pinal counties, including Catalina, SaddleBrooke, SaddleBrooke Ranch and most of of the town of Oro Valley, with approximately 220 square miles in its response area. The district has six stations and 114 firefighters covering approximately 65,000 residents.

Katy Heiden, a Northwest Fire District spokeswoman, said any feasibility study of the consolidation of the two fire districts would require favorable votes from both boards. A study would be expected to take several months and would carefully evaluate the impact of all areas of service, she said.

Northwest Fire District's taxation rate is $2.20 per $100 of secondary assessed valuation, while Golder Ranch's is $1.59 per $100 of secondary assessed valuation.

Adam Goldberg, Northwest Fire captain, said the board's action would allow Northwest "to sit down with Golder Ranch to see if this is feasible for both departments," if first the Golder Ranch board approves a consolidation analysis.

Any consolidation "would have to be fiscally responsible for it to be done, as well as make operational sense," Goldberg noted. "It will not affect public safety in any way and our service to the community will not change."

He added the public would be included in the process of any consolidation efforts.

John Sullivan, community services division chief for Golder Ranch, likened the process to getting to know someone better.

"This action (of the Northwest board) opens up the option of the next step, almost like dating," he said. "We've cooperated between the districts in the past, and they want to see if we can take the relationship to the next level."

Sullivan also echoed Goldberg's comments about safety. "There should be no worry to the people in the fire districts because we both are committed to the safety of our communities," he said.

Mary Schuh, a Northwest district resident, addressed board during the public comment period and questioned both the consideration of consolidation and the timing announcement of Monday's special meeting — the agenda was posted in the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

Heiden later pointed out, "I think in part it (the meeting) might be because Golder Ranch has a search out for a new fire chief. It makes sense to consider if we are looking at this consolidation or not because it might have an impact on the candidates they are looking at."

Nassi confirmed he had called for the special meeting. He said he was contacted recently about Northwest's possible interest after the Golder Ranch fire board had discussed the consolidation analysis issue.

Earlier this year, Northwest Fire District had explored a merger with Picture Rocks Fire Department. Heiden said "it wasn't something that seemed like it would be real workable at this particular time," but that "we'll probably revisit that again at some point."

Northwest Fire

140 square miles, including much of Marana, Pima County north and west of Tucson, Flowing Wells, Tucson Mountain and Dove Mountain communities.

10 stations, 192 firefighters, 125,000 residents

$32.42 million budget, fiscal 2009-'10

Golder Ranch

220 square miles, including much of Oro Valley, SaddleBrooke, Catalina, northern Pima County and southern Pinal County communities.

6 stations, 114 firefighters, 65,000 residents

$19.388 million budget, fiscal 2009-'10

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