Two years after voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a new fire department substation, ground will be turned to start construction on the building.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 23, town officials and Payson firefighters will pick up their shovels and break ground for Payson's second fire station on the northeast corner of the Beeline Highway and Rancho Road.
The 4,600 square-foot Rancho Fire Station will house a paramedic engine company, a brush truck and a fire engine.
The fabricated steel building, described as "austere, but not industrial" by Payson Fire Chief John Ross, is designed to fit into the residential neighborhood. The living quarters include a kitchen, four dorm rooms, a multipurpose room which will be used as an office, classroom and recreation area, and bathroom facilities.
The building is scheduled to be completed by October.
Ross said that by having the second engine company in service, the fire department will cut its response time significantly to the fastest-growing area of town.
In 1994, 32 percent of the fire department's calls were from north Payson. In 1998, 40 percent of the calls were from the north area of town.
Although the department's response time in the area of Payson One Fire Station at the south end of town on Main Street is adequate, the overall response time average is increasing. "It's beyond our target of four minutes," Ross said.
That's because many of the emergency calls are coming in for areas north of Highway 260 and Longhorn Road, where the response times are more than four minutes, 40 percent of the time.
This presents problems in both medical and firefighting situations.
With medical responses, for every minute a patient is not breathing, his or her chance of survival is reduced by 10 percent.
"Obviously, the faster we can arrive on scene with the paramedics, the greater chance for survival of the patient," Ross said.
Quicker response times are also critical when uncontrolled fires start, he said. "One or two minutes' difference in the response time means the difference between family members dying in the blaze, versus meeting outside of the home at their prearranged meeting place and watching firefighters extinguish a small fire."
And the smaller the fire, the safer it is for firefighters.
Building, operating, maintaining and staffing the additional fire station is a top priority in the coming year's budget.
In May 1997, the Town Council asked the voters to approve a sales tax increase to raise $480,000 for the north side station. A total of $2.5 million was sought to build a $2 million library, a $2.04 million police station and the second fire station.
A little over 42 percent of the voters turned out and soundly defeated the measure that would have increased their sales tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent.
Town officials went back to the drawing board to try to replace the library, police station and add another fire station from the town's budget.
Funded from town reserves
Chief Fiscal Officer Glen Smith said the money to build the station -- $420,000 -- was generated over the last couple of years out of reserve funds.
Smith said Thursday that what happens now is that, once the police station and the new fire station are built, most of the town's reserves will be gone.
"They've been saving over the years," Smith said. "Our current policy is to keep 9 percent of our operating revenue for cash flow purposes to make sure we have enough cash to pay bills."
Smith said the town had over $4 million in its reserve fund. "Back then, for whatever reason, they didn't know what was available."
Smith said that within the next few years, if costs remain about the same, there'll be enough in the reserve fund to pay for a new library.
"And that's about it for anything that big, unless the town comes through with a way to finance it," he said. "It took a lot of years to get (the reserve fund) up to where it was."
Smith said the town didn't do a lot of building until 1994 when it hit a growth spurt and found a need for capital projects.
"We're using the money in a smart way," Smith said.
New firefighters approved
The Town Council has approved a draft of the FY 1999-2000 budget which allows for an additional $201,000 for fire personnel to staff the building. The money will allow the hiring of three new full-time fire engineers, and promote three current fire engineers to lieutenant positions.
Another $14,000 has been budgeted for operations and maintenance at the Rancho fire station.
"Fire Station Two is an extremely important facility that, once completed, will allow citizens throughout Payson to have a higher, more efficient level of service that equates to more saved lives and less property damage due to fires," Ross said.