In a way it was a case of he said, she said … he said, he said.
During the first and only debate, the two sides representing the Sedona Fire District’s proposed $17.9 million bond met in an open forum to discuss whether or not voters should approve the measure.
This is a mail in process with registered voters required to mail or drop off their ballots no later than 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters Greater Verde Valley, saw a standing-room-only audience, which filled Christ Lutheran Church on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
The format featured two speakers in favor of the bond, Gary Johnson and Wendy Tanzer, and two opposed, Mike Schroeder and Dwight Kadar. Each had 10 minutes for opening remarks followed by questions turned in by the audience and then final remarks.
In June, the SFD Governing Board voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward with a $17.9 million bond. The plan calls for replacing Station 4 in Uptown as well as Station 5 in Oak Creek Canyon. Discussion has begun with Arizona State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to move Station 5 to Slide Rock. In addition, major improvements and upgrades are proposed for Station 1 in West Sedona and Station 3 in the Village of Oak Creek.
Repairs to Station 1 carry a low estimate of $2.3 million to a high of $2.54 million while Station 3 sees a low of $1.8 million and a high of $2.04 million. The range for Station 4 is $4.45 million to $4.94 million while for Station 5 it’s $2.3 million to $2.6 million.
These costs do not include $1 million for a proposed new maintenance facility for Station 1, an upgrade to SFD’s telecommunication towers and equipment or an additional 10 to 15 percent to cover costs such as architectural, engineering and city fees. If the bond passes, homeowners would see their fire district tax raise by about $20 per $100,000 valuation.
Schroeder began his remarks by comparing salaries and expenditures with nearby Central Yavapai Fire District and asked why they can do things 30 percent cheaper than SFD.
“Is it a taxpayer bailout, are our capital improvements in dire straits?” he asked. “Where was the management and board oversight? Was anyone paying attention? It doesn’t look like it.”
He said instead of a bond, the district should utilize three stations throughout the district that are rarely used and that instead of replacing Stations 4 and 5, they should be remodeled. Funding should be set aside annually in the budget for capital improvement projects that are listed in the bond.
He also questioned how things like repairing drywall and renovating kitchens at the stations make the district safer, Tanzer began her comments by quoting former U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn who once said, “Any jackass can kick down the barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”
She then praised the work of Chief Kris Kazian and the Governing Board for the accomplishments the district has seen over the last five years. She said residents are safer thanks to reduced response time throughout SFD’s 168 square miles of fire response area and 274 square miles for emergency medical services.
“Their methods are transparent, fully above board and audited every single year,” she said. “There’s been absolutely no mismanagement of your tax dollars.”
During the Q&A phase, a member of the audience said that New York City has the best fire department in the country and that many of their buildings are at least 100 years old. So why is it that SFD’s buildings aren’t as durable?
“Station 4 was never intended to handle today’s modern equipment,” Tanzer said. “There are so many different reasons why our district needs to rebuild and not merely remodel. Parenthetically, it’s been shown in many cases that by the time they pull down the walls and remodel — as opposed to a rebuild — it’s often more expensive than just having done it [rebuild] to begin with.”
To that, Kadar read a portion of a letter from a structural engineer who did an assessment of Station 4 and stated that renovations can be done and brought up to current standards.
“I want you to consider when it comes time to vote, do we need to spend $6 million to completely tear down and rebuild a station, when there’s a report here that says it’s not necessary?” he said.
Another question asked is if the entire $17.9 million bond is needed and if rebuilding stations is necessary.
Kadar said 75 percent of the total calls are handled by Station 1 in West Sedona and Station 3 in the Village of Oak Creek and that Stations 4 and 5 average less than two calls a day. He also said that the vast majority of calls throughout the district are not for fires but rather ones for medical assistance.
He then questioned the need for the district’s $1 million ladder truck, equipped with a 100-foot ladder. To that, Tanzer said the two calls a day statistic is a bit misleading.
Each station has what’s called a still district — the immediate coverage around that one station. She said not one station operates in a vacuum and thus, each station is often called to back one another up. And in regard to the ladder truck, she said the current city fires in Northern California prove the need for that type of vehicle.
Other questions included how SFD would work with the state for a station at Slide Rock, the necessary improvements to Station 3, if the bond would pay for the existing debt service and why a voter information packet was not sent out by the district.
In his closing remarks Johnson said, “We can’t continue to kick the can down the road. If we do, what’s going to happen? We’re going to have this same conversation five years from now, except things will be worse. Remember, the capital improvement plan is just that — it’s a plan. It’s valid for approximately 10 years and some of those items will change.”
During his closing remarks Kadar said, “I am personally offended by what I’m seeing going through the mail. ‘If we don’t pass this bond, the district will be forced to cut services.’ What does that mean? If I call 911 does that mean the responder will be slower to respond to my emergency? What I know is that when I need a first responder they will be there. Unfortunately this kind of veiled threat is an attempt to intimidate the uninformed district voter.”
For more information, visit safersedona.com or arizonaliberty.us.