The Golder Ranch Fire District will soon have an additional $26.6 million at its disposal after Oro Valley, Catalina and SaddleBrooke voters narrowly approved a bond package on the Nov. 5 election.
Most recent figures show that 11,598 voted for the measure while 10,552 voted against it, 52 to 47 percent.
With that approval, the district will have funding to not only implement remodels of existing stations to bring them up to building code and National Fire Protection Association standards, but also install new alerting infrastructure, build new training facilities and additional administrative office spaces, restructure existing debts and more.
The district will not use the bond funding to pay for new equipment, instead using its operations budget, because gear typically depreciates at a faster rate than the bond is active.
According to Golder Ranch Fire Chief Randy Karrer, the district is “excited and humbled” by the bond approval because it will allow them to decrease response times to emergencies and put engineering practices in place to keep firefighters safer from the risk of cancer.
“We strive to be ‘community first,’ and it is amazing to have the community invested in us as much as we are in them,” Karrer said.
Before the election, Karrer told Tucson Local Media that a bond package was the best way to fund capital improvements without causing spikes in the property tax rate. Instead of increasing the tax rate to pay for individual needs, the district will issue two 20-year bonds.
As previously reported by Tucson Local Media, the district’s bond committee concluded that the secondary property tax rate, currently set at 9 cents per every $100,000 of assessed home value, will quickly move up to 17 cents, but then decline in the following years to a final rate of 8 cents per $100,000 at the end of the bond’s life.
The first few years of the bond will be dedicated solely to paying the interest and restructuring the district’s existing debt. Golder Ranch was founded in 1977, and more recently consolidated with the smaller (and now defunct) Mountain Vista Fire District in 2017. When the consolidation took place, Golder Ranch acquired Mountain Vista’s debt—more than $5 million.
Once the debt situation is handled, the district will begin renovations to its older stations, beginning with #375 in Rancho Vistoso.
Despite advancements made after last year’s #RedforEd movement, public school districts are still in need of funding after the Great Recession forced money elsewhere. In Amphi alone, more than $120 million was cut over a decade.
To help shore up operations the district has utilized a budget override, which allows for the collection of 10 percent of what the state provided that year, directly from local homeowners through a secondary property tax. The total amount is about $7.9 million, and the money goes toward maintenance and operation expenses. The override requires approval every five years, and Amphi voters already approved the proposition three times since 2005.
Voters once again decided to support the school district, approving Prop. 475 and 476 last Tuesday. Prop 475 was a continuation of the district’s 10 percent bump, while Prop. 476 increased the tax by an additional 3.5 percent.
That extra money—which averages out to $43 per household annually—will provide free full-day kindergarten and shrink class sizes in those grades by five to eight fewer students.
Voters approved Prop. 475 by a 59 to 40 percent margin, 17,298 to 12,003 votes. Prop. 476 passed with 57 percent approval, 15,742 votes for and 11,571 against.
A similar measure was also approved in the Flowing Wells Unified School District, which asked for a 10 percent override. Prop. 473 passed 56 to 43 percent, 2,244 votes for and 1,751 against.
The Altar Valley Elementary District, located roughly 20 miles west of Tucson, also received approval from voters for its override, while Sunnyside Unified School District voters shot down their proposition.