BISBEE — Facing an ever-increasing debt to the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), the Bisbee City Council seeks ways to boost revenue to make up for the shortfall.
As City Manager Robert Smith put it, “At 65 to 75 percent of the city debt, PSPRS is unsustainable.”
So to begin to grapple with the problem, Councilman Doug Dunn presented his ideas in Tuesday’s work session.
His Bisbee Fire Department funding alternatives included a number of suggestions, such as increasing the city’s sales tax from 9.6 percent to 11.4 percent to provide an additional $375,000 per year. This tax would have to be in effect for the next 23 years to pay off the city’s 2016 net-unfunded, accrued liability of $17,671,261. He recognizes the sales tax alone will not pull Bisbee out of the hole it is in due to the financial meltdown of the PSPRS investments of 2007-08.
Expansion of city limits could provide extra property tax revenue. Currently, an annexation of properties down Naco Road to the Brian A. Terry U.S. Border Patrol Station is in discussion, said Mayor David Smith.
Dunn proposed that a Bisbee Fire District be formed with properties outside city limits. Residents would pay a secondary tax assessment capped by law at $3.25 per $100 of assessed value. It would also qualify the city for a portion of the Cochise County Fire District assessment tax, which is currently levied on county properties to support fire districts.
The sale of fire-service subscriptions to residences on the north side of the Highway 80 tunnel would help.
Dunn also suggested the sale of the fire station in Old Bisbee on Tombstone Canyon to “a rich person looking for a unique residential property.”
Smith agreed with Dunn, and added that the fire department could charge for the annual business inspections. Business floor plans are essential for firefighters to know the layout of each building. Every time a new business comes into a building, things can change. Firefighters need to know those changes.
“The inspections are required annually,” he emphasized. “We could establish a new fee structure of $100 for the inspection. Only businesses would pay the fee.”
Smith indicated the work could be done by a part-time civilian contractor who could be a retired firefighter with a certification number one or number two. The fee would pay the salary, and the city would have safer buildings. The designated person would also look for code violations.
An insurance company can be charged for the services involved in accidents that involve non-resident drivers in which they are at fault, Smith continued.
“Our taxpayers are paying for that service now,” Smith said. “There is a per-hour fee schedule for this.”
Budget talks will continue with more work sessions planned.