The Gilbert Town Council on Wednesday will consider hiring an attorney in an attempt to overturn a new state law that calls for the town to provide fire service to county islanders.
Town officials expect to move forward with a lawsuit, saying the state law is unconstitutional because it was written specifically for Gilbert.
“It appears we don’t have much of a choice,” Councilman Don Skousen said. “In our view, this is special legislation that carves out just Gilbert, and forces 175,000 people into having to do something without having any say-so in it.”
Sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, a county island resident, the law signed Feb. 13 provides 9,000 county island residents an alternative fire and emergency coverage after they lose Rural/Metro Fire District service on July 1.
If they can collect petition signatures from at least 51 percent of homeowners living in about 2,900 homes, then the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors could approve a new fire district and force Gilbert to provide emergency services for a fee.
Mayor Steve Berman said it is important to file the litigation now, so county residents know about it and have time to be annexed without losing service, as opposed to creating the district only to have it dismantled later.
Some county islanders, though, said the threatened litigation is a tactic to get them to seek annexation and give up their fire district plans.
“No one in the United States of America should be without fire protection,” said Melissa Apergis.
Tony Hyland, a county islander who helped draft the bill, said other attorneys have already reviewed it and called it constitutional. As a pilot program, he said, it is now only in Gilbert but it could spread to other towns.
The Town Council will vote during Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Southeast Regional Library, 775 N. Greenfield Road, whether to hire attorney Paul Eckstein of Phoenix-based Perkins, Coie, Brown and Bain. Eckstein’s fee of $475 an hour, and his assistant’s $285 an hour fee, would come from the town’s general fund.