Queen Creek residents may not get the refunds promised by Rural/Metro Fire Department when Queen Creek’s new fire department took over the town’s fire service.
For more than 30 years, Rural/Metro served as the fire service provider for the town until Queen Creek Fire Department began providing fire service to town residents Jan. 1. Queen Creek voters approved a primary property tax of $1.95 per $100 of assessed property valuation to help pay for fire department infrastructure. The Town Council also approved a one-quarter percent sales tax increase to fund fire department operations.
The shift surprised Rural/Metro officials, who were working with the town on a temporary master contract until it could start a municipal fire department years later. Rural/Metro Fire Chief Gary Morris was told of the change the day a news conference was held to announce it.
Town residents had previously contracted with the company individually and paid subscription rates based on their property’s square footage. But the master contract between the town and Rural/Metro was expected to be worth about $3 million, Morris said.
Within a month of Queen Creek’s announcement, Rural/Metro cut 40 jobs in Arizona. The company won’t say how many subscriptions it had in Queen Creek or how many subscribers are due a refund.
Rural/Metro representatives have said in past interviews that prorated refunds would be issued after Queen Creek took over, but a recent statement the company issued appears to take a different stance.
“Per our existing business plan and contract, Rural/Metro is under no obligation to provide refunds to the customers in question,” the statement reads. “However, because of the extenuating circumstances present in Queen Creek, our legal advisors and accountants are reviewing alternate solutions.”
Queen Creek resident and Town Council candidate Jeff Brown said he’s been calling the company and got his name on a list of Queen Creek residents requesting a refund. He said his annual bill is around $600.
“I would like to see a check within 30 days of the turn-over date,” Brown said. “I have every right to expect a check in the mail for the balance due.”
Brown said as a council candidate he doesn’t have time to track down the money but said there are residents in the area who are struggling and could use the refund.
“Contractual obligations aside, they’ve made a commitment in newspaper interviews to provide refunds,” Brown said.
Queen Creek resident Kirby Chadwick said her Rural/Metro bill came due in June and she hesitated to pay the entire amount because of the work the town was doing on fire service.
“They said they would refund the portion not used, but then I decided to pay a prorated amount,” Chadwick said. “I paid through January.”
Her prorated bill was about $260.
Chadwick said Rural/Metro has always been fair, and the town’s decision to dump them as the fire service provider was a “really raw deal.”
“They worked very hard to help the town develop a fire department, and all of a sudden they announced this change,” she said.