It is time for straight talk on the fire service initiatives on the May 20 ballot. The good news in that Scottsdale is one of the safest communities in the nation and is fortunate to have excellent fire, police and emergency services. I do not support the fire service propositions as they are written and strongly urge Scottsdale voters to vote NO on Propositions 200 and 201.
Here are the facts:
- The independent auditor hired to assess fire services delivered a favorable report on Rural/Metro and recommended against transition to a city department. The Citizen's Advisory Committee found Rural/Metro to be functioning well and offered suggestions for additional service improvements that could be incorporated under the current provider.
- Our city continually experiences fire losses well below the national and regional averages.
- For years, resident surveys have indicated very high levels of satisfaction with Rural/Metro.
- The facts are indisputable. If the propositions pass, there will be enormous impacts on our budget. For starters, the cost just to transition to a city department is approximately $6.4 million!
- The increase in the annual operating costs for fire service would be significant and could run into the millions.
- The impact of these cost increases would force the City Council to eliminate significant programs, delay more worthwhile projects, lay off city employees and draw down our savings accounts. Do not be misled. These potential ramifications are realistic.
- Scottsdale is fortunate in having a very low incidence of fires within our city. In the year 2002 there were only 51 structure fires, several of which were extinguished by automatic sprinklers.
I strongly support the firefighters who deliver our services. The auditors and citizen committee suggested some enhancements and improvements to the system, which have merit. I support adoption of a new pension plan and will push to have it included in the next contract. We are working with U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth to pass legislation that will increase death benefits for firefighters. These changes all can be made without the costly impact of creating a municipal fire department.
Since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the national economic slowdown, the recent war in Iraq and the public's pullback on travel, Scottsdale's economy has been impacted like all cities and states throughout the country. We have targeted reductions in projected expenses for the coming year and will have an excellent budget that will allow us to maintain our high level of services and continue the reinvestment and renaissance that is taking place throughout our city. The potential impact from the projected millions of dollars of additional costs, should the two propositions pass, could not come at a worse time. Even the wording of the propositions creates potential major problems. It would require implementation of a city department within six months. This is not a realistic time frame, and the financial strains and impacts would be great.
To be honest, it would be easier to sit on the sidelines and let the battle over the propositions take place without speaking out. But, as your mayor, I promised to lead from the front, and when it comes to controversial issues, to call them as I see them. In my opinion, the current propositions are not necessary and, as they are written, could be damaging to our city. Any service level changes can be implemented without creating a municipal fire department.
The Goldwater Institute and the consultants concluded that Rural/Metro is effective and cost-efficient and there is nothing to indicate that a municipal fire department could do the job more effectively or less expensively. Propositions 200 and 201 are unnecessary and should not be approved.
--Mary Manross is mayor of Scottsdale. The views expressed are those of the author.