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Fire districts to adopt joint budget proposal

Posted 5/30/17

A fire truck responds to an incident in Sun City West near North County Fire & Medical District Fire Station 101, 19001 N. Camino del Sol. By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

Summer is heating …

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Fire districts to adopt joint budget proposal

A fire truck responds to an incident in Sun City West near North County Fire & Medical District Fire Station 101, 19001 N. Camino del Sol.
By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

Summer is heating up with a spate of fire district budget meetings planned in Sun City West.

Fiscal year 2017-18 budget proposals for the North County Fire & Medical District, Sun Lakes Fire District and the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority were published last week; following the statutory 20-day public notice period, the respective governing bodies will consider and adopt their budgets during meetings next month.

The budgeting process, which commenced in January, culminates with the AFMA special meeting 10 a.m. Thursday, June 29 at the NCFMD headquarters, 18818 N. Spanish Garden Drive. The meeting is open to the public and officials encourage district residents to attend.

Formed in February, AFMA is the result of a joint powers agreement between North County and Sun Lakes. Both districts remain in their local communities, but the combined JPA merges revenue and budgeting into an overall budget for both groups, according to the AFMA Proposed Annual Budget and Operational Plan FY 2017-18.

“The fire authority is a form of government, but is not a taxing authority,” said NCFMD Assistant Chief Mary Dalton. “The two taxing authorities remain in place — North County and Sun Lakes. Those districts approve their proportionate parts of the authority’s budget. They individually also look at their own local budgets.”

The AFMA budget, being comprised of local districts’ revenue and expenditures, can only be adopted as-is or decreased once the tentative budgets are published. The JPA board has no authority to increase the budget after that, Ms. Dalton explained.

The amount each local district pays toward, as well as its shared revenue, is determined by the services provided in their respective communities, according to the published budget document.

“The North County Fire & Medical District portion of the revenue and costs is approximately 69 percent and the Sun Lakes portion is 31 percent. This pro-rata share is based on the number of daily emergency services personnel normally assigned to each battalion,” as stated in the report.

Each of the local fire districts comprise a battalion within AFMA, including Battalion 101 (NCFMD) and Battalion 231 (SLFD). Year-over-year budgeting comparisons are complicated due to disparate accounting systems in previous years among not only NCFMD and SLFD, but also the former Wittman Fire District, which merged with NCFMD last year.

The authority budget details shared revenue and expenses for the year at $25.7 million, the lion’s share of which goes to paying AFMA employees, including 170 budgeted emergency services personnel. Expenses include an estimated $20.7 million (82 percent) for wages and benefits, $2.9 million (14 percent) for operating expenditures, $217,985 (1 percent) for district training and development, $812,739 (3 percent) for debt service and a $600,000 contingency fund.

Personnel costs rose by nearly 6 percent over the previous year due to a 40 percent, or more than $1 million, increase in retirement costs. Maintenance and operating expenses are projected to drop by nearly 13 percent and training costs decrease more than 17 percent due to costs savings resulting from formation of the JPA. Debt servicing costs rise more than 13 percent because of increased asset depreciation or capital account funding, according to the budget plan.

NCFMD Assistant Chief Tim Van Scoter explained more than $1 million in capital purchases, which are part of this annual budget but also part of a five-year plan, which is updated annually. Some of those purchases will address needs of the local fire district, while others will benefit the overall JPA.

“As far as large purchases this year, we’re looking at spending $1.1 million in capital expenditures, including a new engine pumper for the North County and two new ambulances for use by both North County and Sun Lakes,” said Mr. Van Scoter. “We are actually taking two of our old units and refurbishing them, which saves us $30,000 to $40,000 for each. That’s a total savings of $60,000 to $80,000 compared to buying new ones. When they’re done you can’t tell it’s not all new.”

He said the old ambulances will be torn down to their frames and then rebuilt will all new cabin and equipment. This and other cost-saving measures have helped the authority meet its budget as planned.

“Our budget is staying where we anticipated it to be this year. We met all of our projections for keeping the cost down,” Mr. Van Scoter added.