Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Supervisors approve the fire district’s annexation request

The process to create a regional fire protection system that encompasses both Green Valley and the town of Sahuarita took another positive step Tuesday as the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved, 3-1, the proposed annexation by the Green Valley Fire District of the northern portion Sahuarita. Currently, that area receives fire and emergency services protection from the Rural Metro Fire Department.

Petition filings

Phil Conklin
GVFD officials had turned in, last week, the signatures of the owners of an additional $2.8 million in property on April 26, including $1 million in town property that was approved by the Sahuarita Town Council the night before. “We took that action, primarily, in recognition that a majority of our citizens within the annexation area had signed the petitions, later certified, favoring the annexation,” Vice Mayor Phil Conklin told the board during the meeting. “Allowing our citizens’ signatures to speak for themselves, I respectfully request that you honor the will of a majority of our citizens.”

Chief Simon Davis
The fire district had turned in the bulk of its petitions on March 30 and the board of supervisors had scheduled a hearing on April 12 until it was postponed at the request of GVFD. Fire district officials had discovered that the petitions contained signatures from a majority of property owners but was short of petitions signed by the owners of a majority of property value in the annexation area. The deadline for filing annexations petitions was April 28. “Unfortunately, my associates on the other side of this annexation issue are here to point out or mistakes,” Chief Simon Davis told the board.

Petitions certified

Lori Godoshian, clerk of the board of supervisors, on April 29, posted a memo stating that GVFD's latest petition submittals had brought the property valuation total to nearly $48.9 million for the annexation area, well above the nearly $47.3 million required by state law. “Additional petitions were submitted by the Green Valley Fire District,” she told the board of supervisors. “They have now met the 50, plus one percentage for assessed value with $48, 874,608.”

However, Rural Metro represented by Kimberly A. Demarchi with the law firm, Lewis & Roca, last week, filed a letter and exhibits with the clerk of the board asserting that about $5 million of that value is not valid. “This is the end of the process,” Demarchi told the board. “This is the only review that will happen. There will be no election. The Green Valley Fire District will be free to complete the annexation subject to court action.”

GFVD attorney Donna Aversa told the board that their task was relatively simple once all of the hard work by Godoshian’s office had been completed. “I don’t think the county has ever seen an annexation of this magnitude,” she said. “I appreciate all of the work that the county staff has put into this. The assessor’s task is very clear to count the number of signatures and to count the assessed value. It’s a yes or no question and we have heard today that the answer is yes.”

Aversa also acknowledged that the issue could move to the legal arena in the near future. “This is not the end of the process. This is the end of the county’s participation in the process,” she said.

Fireboard member Bill Katzel urged the board to approve the annexation request. “This annexation is not about politics or profit, but endorsing the will of the majority of the people of the town of Sahuarita,” he said.

Board discussion

Supervisor Ramon Valadez, D., District 1, had declared a conflict of interest and turned the chairmanship of the meeting over to Supervisor Sharon Bronson, D., District 3. The motion to approve the annexation was made by Supervisor Ray Carroll, R., District 4. “The vice mayor said it best. This is an issue of local control,” said Carroll. “The majority of the citizens have agreed to be annexed.”

Supervisor Richard Elias, D., District 5, thanks all of the emergency services personnel present and then raised objections to the annexation petitions submitted. “The chief of Green Valley said they made some minor mistakes,” Elias pointed out. “There were a lot of mistakes made in this process.”

Elias suggested the mistake had put the taxpayers in a bad position. “This is about fire services. This is about rescue services, but this is also about taxes that are taken from people,” he said.

Bronson said she had not planned to comment on the issues, but felt compelled to say something. “Our attorneys have indicated that the Green Valley Fire District petitions have met the requirements,” she said.

Chief Tom Brandhuber
After the vote, Rural Metro Chief Tom Brandhuber did not appear to be surprised. “We are disappointed, but we respect the process and we respect their ability to make the decision,” he said.

The GVFD board is expected to meet Wednesday to approve the annexation. “The next step is our board is holding a meeting to approve the annexation and change the boundaries of the district,” said Davis.

Fireboard Chairman Dave Appleton anticipates the fireboard will approve the annexation. “There’s no doubt about it. Not a problem,” he said.

Regional fire protection

Davis said the real reason for the annexation has been lost in the arguments about the petitions and property values. “The reason behind this annexation is to create a regional fire protection system to take advantage of economies of scale and to have the community benefit from additional resources,” he said. “The end result will be better delivery of emergency services to the community.”

If the annexation is approved by the fireboard, Rural Metro and others will have 30 days to challenge the action in Pima County Superior Court. “We’ll sit down together as an organization and decide what our next steps are going to be,” said Brandhuber. “All options are on the table and have some internal deliberations and go from there.”

After the meeting Carroll expressed additional confidence in the proposed annexation. “I have great confidence in their board and their chief,” he said.

Carroll was asked if Elias had raised significant concerns during the board’s executive session to receive legal advice. “We can’t discuss what happens in closed session, but the chief and other members of the board have acknowledged that this process was messy and wasn’t perfect,” he said. “It’s a lot like making sausage, but the final product should be a successful annexation, I hope,”

Unless legal action is taken, the fire district’s boundaries will change on June 3. Rural Metro has experience challenging annexations in the past and at times has engaged in protracted litigation.

Meanwhile, GVFD has asked Rural Metro to approve a transition plan that would pay Rural Metro $1,000 a day to continue serving northern Sahuarita for up to 30 additional days, or until July 3 at the latest. Chief Brandhuber said Rural Metro would fully cooperate in any transition if one takes place.