Sun Lakes Fire District Seeks Tax Override

Brian Curry

The Sun Lakes Fire District is asking residents to approve a temporary tax levy override after making as many non-essential cuts as possible without jeopardizing fire suppression or emergency medical services. The override proposal is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, November eighth.

If the override is approved it would authorize the SLFD Board of Directors to temporarily increase the levy amount by 25 cents, not to exceed the tax levy of $3.50 per $100 dollars of assessed limited property values (LPV) of properties for a length of five years.

The reason the SLFD is seeking this override is due to years of declines in assessed property values (-36 percent over the last six years). This has forced the District to utilize funds allocated for capital needs to fund the general budget. That has put a major strain on the District’s ability to properly maintain and replace fire apparatus, repair and maintain the aging fire stations and provide the firefighters and paramedics with the safety equipment they need to meet industry code standards. The maintenance of the fire engine itself is particularly important because a lack of even one fire engine puts a huge strain on the fire service. The fire service will sometimes use an hour meter to gauge when the engines need to go through maintenance. However, with the District struggling to perform maintenance, it seems the fire service is in deep trouble.

“We have been taking steps to lower our spending while still trying to maintain the level of services that Sun Lakes residents have become used to receiving from us,” said Chief Troy Maloney. “We have removed all non-essential expenditures from our budget and cut the office hours down to a 32 hour work week and lastly, cut apparatus maintenance to a point where any future cuts would be unacceptable.”

“The main purpose of the override is to maintain the Fire District’s infrastructure and its capital needs. Fire apparatus replacement, acute building maintenance and protective firefighting equipment. We operate under strict federal, state and local standards and regulations in order to provide our community with a high quality of services while creating a safe working environment for our personnel. For the safety of our firefighters and medical personnel and safety of those they protect, the system must have reliable and up to date equipment and apparatus” Maloney emphasized.

In order for the Fire District to remain out of debt and not have to take out loans, the District must maintain 10-20 percent in its annual budget in capital reserves to pay for planned purchases. Currently, the District has only 2 percent in reserves.

A “YES” vote on the override proposal would allow for the purchase of a new fire engine, which is already two years overdue for replacement. It would make needed repairs and maintenance to both fire stations. This would also provide for the replacement of outdated cardiac heart monitors as well as provide replacement of mandated firefighter’s protective gear and equipment. This increase will cost the average homeowner about $4.17 a month or $.14 a day.

A “NO” vote would not allow the District Board the ability to increase the levy beyond the existing levy of $3.25 per $100 of assessed limited property values. “A no vote will mean that the District will go into debt for any apparatus replacement. Building repairs, some of which have significant problems already will certainly be affected as well as any preventative maintenance going forward. SLFD will not be able to continue to meet national and state industry standards and our emergency staffing levels may be cut below our current levels, thus increasing our response time” Chief Maloney stressed.

The SLFD which responds to approximately 3,700 calls for service annually asks that if any District residents have any additional questions on the override vote issue please call 480-895-9343 and ask to speak to Chief of department Troy Maloney or Deputy Chief Rob Helie.

Early voting ballots will be mailed out to regular voters within the Sun Lakes District and can be returned starting October 2. Those going to the polls on November 8 will see a question on the override and can be voted on again only by Sun Lakes residents.