Rio Verde Foothills residents are bracing for growth with efforts to ensure they’ll have adequate fire protection and a secure water supply as the rural enclave’s population increases.
The 18-square-mile unincorporated Maricopa County area between north Scottsdale and the Tonto National Forest is likely to see its number of residents more than triple — to about 7,000 — in the next decade, county planners’ projections show.
On Wednesday, county supervisors are expected to authorize a petition drive seeking residents’ approval for establishing a local fire district.
A group of residents also is trying to set up an improvement district to provide water delivery to the eastern half of the area, which now depends on local wells.
Fire service in Rio Verde Foothills is currently available only on an annual-fee subscription basis with the private Rural/Metro Fire Department. More than 35 percent of households in the area are not subscribers, said Rural/Metro spokeswoman Alison Cooper.
A fire district would provide comprehensive coverage funded through an assessment on property owners.
The proposed rate would mean, for instance, that owners of a property with an assessed value of $750,000 would pay about $1,650 a year for fire and emergency services, said Sam West, a member of the fire district committee.
The district could need as much as $1.5 million a year to build, maintain and operate a Rio Verde Foothills fire station, West said.
Committee member Nena Henry said the district board’s first big challenge will be deciding whether to join forces with another nearby fire district or to pursue a service contract with neighboring Scottsdale or Rural/Metro.
The availability of fire service got complicated when Rural/Metro ended its service to Scottsdale on July 1. Now Rural/Metro’s nearest station to Rio Verde Foothills is about 10 miles away, in Carefree.
Rural/Metro has since contracted with a private fire department in the area to provide first-response emergency service in Rio Verde Foothills.
Henry said having a local fire district can improve the situation by providing a closer fire station. It also would prove less expensive in the long term, because district assessment fees are tax deductible, unlike private-service subscription fees, she said.
Some residents also may soon accept a tab for $10,000 to $12,000, to be paid over 20 years, to ensure a long-term water supply for their Rio Verde Foothills properties, said water consultant Tim Bray.
Bray is working with a group of property owners who get their water from local wells. It’s getting more difficult and costly to drill the wells deeper, so the group is hoping to get water from the nearby Verde River, he said.
That would require establishing a water district that would ink an agreement with the Salt River Project utility, which owns the river water.
Through a district assessment, residents would restore SRP’s supply by purchasing water from the Central Arizona Project to replace water taken from the Verde River, Bray said.
The exchange would be less expensive for residents, said SRP water rights manager Dave Roberts. It would cost them significantly more to have water delivered directly to Rio Verde Foothills from the CAP system, which is much farther away from the area than the Verde River, he said.