HUACHUCA CITY — Whetstone Fire District’s three-year intergovernmental agreement with the town of Huachuca City to provide fire services expires at the end of the year.
During a Thursday work session, Whetstone Fire Chief Peter Bidon presented council members with proposals for consideration if the district’s contract is extended.
“We would like to get something in place before the expiration date so the contract keeps going and we don’t have to worry about it,” Bidon said. “One of the biggest goals we had to work on in the current contract was improving the town’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) score and we were able to achieve that.”
The fire district entered into a $410,000 annual contract with the town in January 2018 for fire protection services. At the time, Huachuca City’s ISO score was a 10, which is equivalent to “no fire protection.” Today, the rating is a four, reflecting a number of improvements in several areas that ISO uses through its evaluation process.
“Now that the ISO goal has been achieved, if we can get the contract extended, we can work on the next two goals which were set up with this,” Bidon said.
Those goals include expanding the Certificate of Necessity (CON) for Whetstone Fire District into the town of Huachuca City, as well as annexaing Huachuca City town limits into the fire district, Bidon said.
“The annexation would mean the town would not have to fork out the money ($410,000 per year) to pay the district under contract,” Bidon noted. “Instead, it would be part of the fire district’s levy, paid to the county through property taxes, and that’s how the fire district would receive its funds.”
While going through an addendum for the contract extension, Bidon presented council members with three option proposals.
Option 1 is a 10-year contract, with two five-year extensions. Option 2 would be a 15-year contract with two eight-year extensions. Option 3 would be a 20-year contract with two 10-year extensions.
Bidon said that when he presented the options to the fire district board, members were satisfied with all three and would support any of the options the Huachuca City mayor and council wanted, if they choose to move forward with a contract extension with the fire district.
When explaining annexation options, Bidon said that option 2 comes with an uncontested, amended Certificate of Necessity that includes Huachuca City town limits. A Certificate of Necessity, which is governed by the Arizona Department of Health Services and Bureau of Emergency Medicine and Trauma, would allow Whetstone Fire District to respond to medical emergencies and transports in Huachuca City, which are now done by Fry Fire Department.
While Whetstone Fire transports nearly 100 percent of medical emergencies in the Whetstone community, Bidon said Fry Fire holds the CON for Huachuca City and responds to the town’s medical emergencies, despite the fact that there is an ambulance at the Huachuca City fire station. Fry Fire does 98 percent of the town’s transports, Bidon said.
There are a number of processes that will need to be followed in order for Whetstone Fire to annex into Huachuca City, Bidon noted.
Before moving forward with any of the changes, there must be an impact statement approved by the fire district’s board, the County Board of Supervisors and the town council, Bidon said.
At that point, the impact statement is posted, followed by public hearings with public input.
In addition, when a fire district proposes to annex into a town, it requires an ordinance or resolution by the mayor and council.
“The governing body of the fire district may approve the boundary change only if the governing body of the affected city or town, by ordinance or resolution, has approved the inclusion into the fire district,” Bidon said while reading from an Arizona Fire Districts document.
“This involves a step process, so I’m going to submit the council with a timeline,” the chief said.
In addition, the annexation and CON processes will require an impact statement regarding the changes, both positive and negative.
At the conclusion of Bidon’s presentation, Huachuca City Mayor Johann Wallace said council and the attorney would need to look over the IGA, identify questions and have the comments back to town clerk Brandye Thorpe by the end of next week.
“This is something that has to be good for both parties involved...obviously there is a need for another work session” to review any consolidations or modifications in the IGA, Wallace said.