Pima County aids ailing fire district
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County voted unanimously to give the Mount Lemmon Fire District $75,000 in general fund money over the next five years.
"They are not financially sustainable," said District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller.
The district is not alone in facing financial trouble. Several fire districts statewide are looking at options, such as consolidation to end their financial troubles.
That would be difficult for Mount Lemmon in that it is an island unto itself and does not border any other fire district.
The troubles stem from two fires in the past 15 years which have drained resources and added debt, the Aspen and Bullock Fires. Even though the debt has been paid, the district sacrificed other upgrades to get rid of the debt.
"We have an aging fleet," said Stan Wagaman, the new fire chief, only two weeks on the job. "We've got an ambulance that's 15 years old, an engine that's 14 years old, a brush truck that's 15 years old, two tenders that are 12 years old."
A new fire engine can easily top $600,000, money the district does not have.
Adding to the financial woes is the fact that the mountain is Tucson's playground. One million people visit the mountain each year and account for a preponderance of the calls.
Locals count for "a mere 10 percent of our calls, the other 90 percent are visitors that come up the mountain," he said.
The district is not allowed, by law, to raise its property taxes which is set at $3.25, the maximum allowed by state law.
It may be able to increase some fees, tax some property which is nontaxable right now, including county and church property, and bring others who are paying a subscription into the taxing district.
"Those are all things we are looking at right now," said Wagaman.
What's not contemplated, at least not yet, is how to make the visitors who tax the system, pay for that use.
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