Northwest Fire District and Golder Ranch Fire District may be about to enter preliminary study of the prospect of merger.
Steps are being taken as this is written; on Monday night, the Northwest board voted unanimously to begin "a study of the feasibility of consolidating services" with its neighbor to the east. This Friday, the Golder Ranch board may take a similar, formal step.
It's quite a possibility, one with far-reaching ramifications, endless details to be considered, many questions to answer.
These fire districts are huge entities. Northwest, headquartered in Flowing Wells and reaching to Dove Mountain, has a $32.4 million budget this year, with nine fire stations and a 10th one rising on Thornydale below the Tortolitas. Golder Ranch, with six stations and more planned, has a $19.39 million budget this fiscal year. As far as governments go, the fire districts are relatively secure in funding, and positioned to expand. Between them, they serve an estimated 190,000 Northwest residents. Regionally, only Pima County has that sort of reach.
It's perfectly proper for government entities providing similar services to at least talk about the benefits of joining forces. In fact, it doesn't happen nearly often enough. Government does not exist to serve itself; it exists to serve its constituents, and it must always ask the questions regarding best delivery of services, and the best use of precious taxpayer resources.
Should Northwest and Golder Ranch merge? We don't have an answer at this point. No one does. But it's good to see the conversations undertaken.
Consternation is inevitable. The public must be assured that its safety is paramount. Already, spokesmen for both departments have said as much. Sight of that objective must never be lost.
The departments themselves are asking questions about relative tax rates (Northwest is $2.20 per $100 of secondary assessed valuation, Golder Ranch $1.59 per $100), relative bonded indebtedness, the impact of consolidation upon taxation, and the effects upon administrative and operational personnel. Any consolidation is a long, long road.
And there's no hurry, at least from the outside perspective. Northwest called a special meeting last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to talk about the feasibility of merger on Monday night. The two boards are expected to meet this Friday. Is there a rush? Why?
It's a story we plan to cover, for several reasons. Among them: these two fire districts cover a majority of our readership. They're big. Fire and emergency services are fundamental to community and personal well-being. Tax dollars must be spent as wisely as possible. In the corporate world, "merger" is a misnomer — when companies "merge," one wins, and one loses. There should be no winners, other than the public, and no losers, if these two fire districts combine.
Many people think government is boring. News people, or at least some of us, find it to be very interesting. So we'll pay attention.