The elected board and chief of the Apache Junction Fire District need to answer some tough questions about why its employees are not happy.
Firefighters tend to be dedicated, loyal professionals, usually staying with the same agency for decades or their entire careers. So it’s rather shocking that Apache Junction has lost one of every 10 firefighters in just two years, a rate that’s twice the national average, as Tribune writer Art Martori reported Saturday. A 2004 employee satisfaction survey found 69 percent of the employees don’t believe the district is “people-oriented” and 72 percent said managers fail to admit mistakes or don’t keep their subordinates informed.
Critics have every right to demand better results from the five-member board and the appointed chief. But they are wrong to use any employee turmoil as an excuse to seek the defeat of proposed bond financing that would help the fire district keep pace with a rapidly growing area.
The fire district is asking voters to approve $9.5 million in new bonds during a Sept. 12 election. The district intends to build a new training center, a new fire station in Gold Canyon, expand the main fire station in Apache Junction and buy a new ladder truck and water tanker. The district also wants to refinance $3.8 million in current debt.
The fire district spent nearly half of its $16 million budget last year on similar major projects, and another $3 million in debt payments and cash reserves. The new bonds wouldn’t change district tax rates, a sign that district officials are operating within projected tax revenues.
Too often in local elections, activists upset with management problems or policy directions of the government suggest “punishing” the decision-makers by rejecting funding proposals at the ballot box. But questions about leadership should be addressed through the election of board members.
The real punishment from an inappropriate denial of funding would fall on residents who could lose their property to a fire or their lives to a medical emergency because there’s not a fire station close enough at hand. Or the punishment could fall on firefighters whose health would be at risk if they don’t have properly functioning equipment or didn’t receive enough training.
Voters in the Apache Junction Fire District who want to keep intact the quality of their fire and emergency medical services will approve bonds for new equipment and structures to match the additional housing and commercial development taking place in their area.