Municipal fire protection – let’s get on with it

By Bob Williams | December 24, 2008

Bob WilliamsI would like to thank and commend Jim Bruce and the members of his Citizens Advisory Committee on Fire Coverage for their completion of a difficult and complex study – and one that clearly had no easy or popular answers from the beginning. I would also like to strongly support the Committee’s recommendation for a property tax to ensure that Cave Creek has the dedicated fire protection it needs for the future. Now, as an overburdened and generally disgruntled taxpayer, why in the world would I publicly go on record as favoring (gasp!) a new tax? I expect to pay for service I receive.

The Committee reported that some 50% of us in Cave Creek pay for 100% of the fire protection we have under Rural/Metro Fire Department. In my case, I pay the Rural/ Metro Contract fee because my homeowner’s insurance carrier requires it. Oh, I suppose that I could ever so slightly stilt the information that I report to my insurance company or change companies and get out of if, but so far I am unwilling to do that – and the 50% of Cave Creek residents that don’t pay Rural/Metro on an annual basis should keep thanking their lucky stars that I and others don’t stop because we are paying to ensure that Rural/Metro stays here to provide their coverage. I wouldn’t even have to lie since Rural/Metro assures me that I receive the same service – no more, no less – than any other Cave Creek resident whether they are a paying subscriber or not.

Rural/Metro is a for profit business and certainly there is nothing wrong with that in our capitalist society. Like any business, if they can’t make a profit, they move on to where they can make a profit or they close the doors. So, if I and a few others quit paying, then Rural/Metro moves on and no one has fire protection or the host of other essential services they provide such as emergency medical response. One enlightened fellow reportedly spoke at a recent Town Council meeting and said that residents had already voted on a potential property tax for fire protection with their wallets and don’t subscribe. Well, let me introduce you to an exciting and evidently misunderstood concept - and that is actually paying for the service you receive.

In my case, I pay about $600 per year (a 25% increase in the past 5 years) to help keep Rural/Metro here for all of us. Remember, that is high because only half of us are footing the bill for everyone. One suggestion was for the Town to wait until the Spur Cross tax is extinguished in 2012 (I happily pay about $700 per year for that) to put this proposed new tax to the voters. That’s OK I guess, but I would prefer that the Town do it tomorrow because now that the payment cat is out of the bag, those paying the freight may well opt out and that would spell disaster for all of Cave Creek. Besides, municipal fire protection service will likely be less expensive in the long term, payment for the service will be far more equitable and we can stop looking over our collective shoulder to see if we still have any service at all. And, from a selfish standpoint, I save money.

Finally, it is sound public policy to provide the essential services (e.g. fire protection) from a property tax that is far more resistant than sales tax to the economic vagaries that continue to wreak so much damage to Cave Creek and every other municipality in the state.

Municipal fire protection will be a necessity sooner or later and my guess is sooner (could be tomorrow) so let’s get on with it. There is something really comforting about knowing that you can call 9-1-1 and help is actually there.