SHOW LOW — After much debate, the Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District has elected not to seek voter approval for a bond despite the need to replace trucks and improve facilites.
In March, the district began considering options for a $15-17 million bond election to fund capital projects in accordance with their strategic plan.
The board discussed, in detail, the process and related research before deciding to go forward with a bond election.
Then, following the fire board’s May 28 meeting, the fire district indicated in a press release that they have decided not to move forward with a bond request.
“The Citizens Advisory Committee recommended that the district not pursue a bond at this time,” said Chief Bryan Savage to the Timber Mesa board during the May 28 meeting.
“The committee recognized and agreed that the district has significant capital needs, that the size of the bond was appropriate for those needs, and that a bond was the best way to finance those needs,” he further explained. “But, the committee was concerned about competing priorities on the ballot this year.”
“While the district has saved significant money in operating costs, that is very different from capital expenses,” said Savage. “The need to repair our facilities, the needs to improve our training programs and facilities, and the needs to replace fire trucks at the appropriate interval do not go away; and they only get more expensive if delayed.”
As a result, the district indicated that they will look at other ways to finance capital expense projects. That could translate into “a bond next year, a significant lease purchase debt, or the least desirable option, raising the tax levy to meet the need,” Savage indicated.
Tax rate reduction
“In each of its five years since the Lakeside, Show Low and Linden Fire Districts merged, the Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District has outperformed all financial projections, saving the tax payers in the White Mountains more than $10 million,” reported Chief Savage in the same press release which addressed the bond election decision.
“This trend is continuing this year as the Timber Mesa Board acted on May 28th to tentatively approve a budget which reduces the estimated tax rate from $2.99 to $2.97.”
Recently the Fire District absorbed the White Mountain Lake Fire District. “As a part of that effort, the board commissioned a feasibility study which stated that the district would require a tax rate of $2.98 for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2019.”
And, although the difference is somewhat small, Savage said that the district is still doing better than what was projected despite “sluggish assessed value growth.”
“The concept of regionalization works!” he said. “We have improved services and reduced costs as a result of merger. The communities of the White Mountains took a risk — they placed their trust in us, and we were able to take four small fire districts and create one regional fire and medical provider.”