New Fire and Medical authority forming

Brian Curry

The governing fire boards of both the Sun Lakes fire district and the North County fire and medical district have approved the adoption of an intergovernmental agreement forming the first fire and medical authority in Maricopa County.

The fire and medical authority has been established pursuant to Arizona revised statues governing a “Joint Powers Authority” (JPA). Under this model, the two districts maintain local control over their budgets and services provided while maintaining separate tax rates. However, the JPA board will govern the personnel, equipment, facilities and daily operations of the combined districts effective July 1 of 2017. This board will be compromised of elected officials who are appointed from each agency participating in the JPA.

Fire districts in Arizona are struggling to recover from a historic recession. Making this recovery even more difficult are extremely restricted funding sources for districts including tax rate caps, budget growth ceilings and the passage of the Arizona Legislature’s Proposition 117 that confined growth in property valuation to 5% or less annually.

These constraints, coupled with increasing operational costs, are having a damaging impact on emergency services throughout the state. SLFD Chief Troy Maloney put it this way, “The Sun Lakes fire district has always been proactive in recognizing threats to the district’s shrinking financial stability and has made a concerted effort to hold down our residents’ property tax burden. As a matter of practice, the district has continually utilized a long-term financial projection process in order to remain fiscally responsible.”

Chief Maloney went on to explain, “Numerous fire service organizations have turned to a new shared services model. The term “shared services” is used in a broad sense to include any arrangement where the districts share in revenue, cost or operational responsibility. This business model enables resources to be leveraged across an entire larger organization resulting in lower costs.”

The Sun Lakes fire district and the North County fire and medical district have a long history of cooperative efforts. The combination of the current fiscal environment coupled with the past collaborative efforts creates a perfect window of opportunity to explore expanded shared services as both districts endeavor to maintain financial stability and diminish the prospect of a workforce reduction which would seriously impact critical emergency services to Sun Lakes residents.

Maloney explained the future without a Joint Powers Authority. “Without shared services, the Sun Lakes tax rate for 2017 is estimated to remain at the $3.25 tax rate cap. However, lacking the creation of the fire and medical authority or a substantial structural modification, Sun Lakes will be unable to sustain their current operational model beyond tax year 2019. Significant service level and/or workforce reductions would likely be required to maintain future financial solvency.”

A recently-completed fiscal analysis indicates that decreased operating costs, increased cost savings, increased efficiency and improved service delivery to taxpayers would be realized with the formation of a JPA. The formation of the JPA is projected to decrease the estimated Sun Lakes fire district property tax rate by $.05. In addition, a tax rate savings is forecasted for each of the next 10 years. The JPA will assist both districts in their ongoing efforts to maintain or enhance the current level of emergency services while maintaining financial stability.

Most importantly, there will be no change to the district residents’ daily emergency services. One of the primary benefits of the JPA is the reduction in administrative overhead costs. This administrative cost reduction provides both districts the opportunity to reallocate funding to stabilize fire and emergency medical service delivery affording both districts the ability to meet their goal of providing the highest level of caring and quality service to its residents.*

Sun Lakes fire district – North County fire and medical district – Joint Powers Authority … Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a Joint Powers Authority?

* A JPA is an entity permitted under the laws of the state, whereby two or more public authorities may jointly exercise any power common to all of them

* Under the JPA model, the Sun Lakes and North County governing boards will maintain local control over service levels and budget totals while maintaining separate tax rates. However, the personnel, equipment, facilities and daily operations of the functionally combined districts will be governed by a new JPA board. This board will be comprised of elected officials who will be appointed from each agency participating in the JPA. The JPA board will set policies, recommend an annual operating budget, assist in long range planning, negotiate labor/management agreements and perform other duties as outlined in the JPA governance documents.

* The JPA will function under the label of “Fire and Medical Authority” and was created through an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) as adopted by the governing boards of both districts.

Why did the districts form a Fire and Medical Authority JPA?

* A combination of extremely restrictive property tax levy limits and increasing expenditure pressures have led many fire districts in Arizona to reconsider the manner in which they are providing services. In particular, several have already decided to successfully share or consolidate services with other districts in order to reduce duplication of efforts and overhead costs.

* The notion of sharing services through an IGA is not a new one and has been undertaken in both private and government organizations for many years. Both Sun Lakes and North County have a long history of cooperative efforts including dispatching and automatic emergency response, standardized operating procedures, recruit training and the Regional Wireless Cooperative.

* Quite simply, these efforts are being implemented with the ultimate goal of maintaining or enhancing existing levels of emergency services for the citizens of Sun Lakes and North County.

Will there be a decrease in emergency services received by Sun Lakes or North County residents?

No. The Authority will result in increased benefits and also in the depth of the overall emergency services resources for the citizens of both districts.

Will any Sun Lakes or North County firefighters or paramedics lose their jobs?

No. Firefighters and emergency medical personnel from both districts will be integrated throughout the consolidated authority to meet the organizational needs of the entire service area.

Will any existing fire stations from either district be closed?

No. All seven existing fire stations (two in Sun Lakes, five in North County) will remain open with no reduction in service levels.

Will the name of either district change?

A name has been decided on, the “Arizona Fire & Medical Authority” that accurately describes the geographical area served by and services provided by the new fire and medical authority.

What will happen when I call 9-1-1 to report a fire or medical emergency?

Sun Lakes and North County residents will not see any change when dialing 9-1-1.

Will my taxes increase with the new Fire and Medical Authority (JPA)?

* The projected 2017 tax rate for existing Sun Lakes property owners is projected to decrease by approximately $.05.

* Without shared services, the Sun Lakes tax rate for 2017 is estimated to remain at the $3.25 tax rate cap.

* However, as previously stated by SLFD Chief Maloney, lacking the creation of the Fire and Medical Authority (JPA) or substantial structural modification, Sun Lakes will be unable to sustain their current operational beyond tax year 2019. Significant service level and/or workforce reductions would likely be required to maintain future financial solvency.

Who approves the Fire & Medical Authority (JPA) creation?

* The governing boards of both Sun Lakes and North County have adopted resolutions creating the new fire and medical authority.

* Both districts conducted a comprehensive feasibility analysis and commissioned an independent third-party economist valuation and growth study as a financial analysis evaluation.

* Both governing boards held public hearings to consider taxpayer comments and to determine if the creation of an authority was in their best interest.

Will an elected Board of Directors oversee the Authority?

* Yes. The personnel, equipment, facilities and daily operations of the combined districts will be governed by a Fire and Medical Authority (JPA) board.

* This board will be compromised of elected officials who are appointed from each agency participating in the authority.

How can I find out more information regarding the new Fire & Medical Authority?

More information is available at www.slfd.org or www.ncfmd.az.gov. You can also call the Sun Lakes fire district administrative offices at 480-895-9343 or the North County administrative office at 623-544-5400 during business hours.