Gilbert county island residents who have been without fire service will pay $159 per $100,000 of their home valuation for fire protection from Gilbert — an amount arrived at by a three-man arbitration panel that resolved a nearly three-year dispute Thursday.
Marci Sale, chairwoman of the Gilbert County Island Fire District board, said the district’s new tax rate means she will pay about $700 a year for emergency protection from Gilbert, versus the $500 she used to pay to Rural/Metro.
“So it is an increase, a little bit, but ... we are paying what I feel is a very equitable rate,” she said.
The fire district board set the tax levy Thursday evening.
Town Manager George Pettit got almost none of what Gilbert had been asking for in its dealings with the newly created fire district during Thursday’s talks. Representatives of the fire district board increased its initial annual operations and maintenance cost of $773,000 by an additional $200,000 to be used by the town as it saw fit.
Pettit, on behalf of the Gilbert Town Council, had sought an additional $400,000 for annual operating costs, plus $3.4 million to pay for additional fire hydrants that town officials said were necessary to provide proper coverage.
But Vice Mayor Joan Krueger said after the meeting that while she was disappointed the town did not get what she felt was cost recovery for protecting the county islands, “I think we got further along in the compromise than I expected we would, and Mr. Pettit did a good job of fighting for the interests of Gilbert residents.”
The arbitration panel was set up under the law that enabled the county islanders to form a fire district. Two of the legislators who had a hand in writing that bill, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, were also on the panel.
Biggs, a county island resident negotiating for the district, quickly asked to take the hydrants and other infrastructure off the table. Murphy agreed, saying he had not seen enough data to convince him the hydrants were necessary.
For 10 years, the Gilbert Fire Department acted as a backup responder to Rural/Metro, the privately owned fire department that stopped providing service to the unincorporated county islands at the end of 2006.
Biggs said county island residents understand service will be different when they live outside the municipal limits, and securing fire service was to them more about saving lives than property.
The one member of the public at the session, county island resident Jim Staples, echoed that view. “I’ve been without fire service for a year and a half, and that didn’t bother me nearly as much as finding out the ambulance service we have is nothing more than a glorified taxi. They can’t do anything without the firefighters there,” he said.