With time running out on service from Houston Mesa Volunteer Fire Department, the Beaver Valley fire board voted to cease negotiations. The board rejected a proposed contract, not yet in their possession, that would continue fire and paramedic coverage for the next fiscal quarter.
In December of 2002, a newly appointed Beaver Valley fire board decided to split from a joint department with Houston Mesa, and terminated its contract with Houston Mesa effective March 13.
In an effort to get more "bang for the buck," Beaver Valley chairman Larry Martin began negotiating a contract that would allow them enough reserve funds to start their own department.
Early negotiations yielded few results as the Houston Mesa district refused to continue coverage at a rate that would force their district's taxpayers to subsidize service to Beaver Valley.
At a Feb. 5 workshop mediated by County Manager John Nelson, both parties appeared to be in agreement and it looked to many as though they had reached an acceptable quarterly payment for services that would satisfy the needs of both districts.
Yet at a board meeting held the night of Feb. 14, and attended by two residents of the community, Martin and the four other board members voted to cease negotiations and reject the contract the two parties had negotiated.
The reason for rejecting the contract, according to the meeting minutes, was that the board had not received the contract by Feb. 14 and that it appeared that the Houston Mesa board had "gone as far as they want to go in negotiations."
When asked if the board had seen the contract prior to unanimously rejecting it, Martin refused to comment.
Beaver Valley resident Bing Brown, who has been working closely with the Beaver Valley board, said that board received the revised contract for service Sunday, Feb. 16.
According to Brown, Beaver Valley board members complained to him that the revised contract varied greatly from the outline both parties agreed to Feb. 5.
Despite repeated requests for interviews, Beaver Valley board members refused to comment on what details of the contract were problematic. Martin further declined to comment on why negotiations were ended abruptly prior to the receipt and review of the contract.
"No more questions," Martin told the Roundup. "You'll have to wait for our press release."
"They aren't telling us anything," Lucy Kieft said. Kieft is a Beaver Valley resident and head of the fire district's auxiliary. "It is so frustrating and Larry Martin doesn't want us to talk to anyone but him," Kieft said. "No one will tell us anything."
In a memo, dated Feb. 13, to Kieft and the auxiliary, Martin wrote, "This is concerning any, and I mean any, board control issues concerning the fire district, fire department, or the fire chief are to be directed to the chairman of the BVFD Board. That means no more phone calls or discussions with Chief Arrington concerning board control issues!"
Residents said they've been forced to speculate because the public officials on their fire board won't inform them about what is going on, nor will they elaborate on the reason why they voted to cease negotiations with Houston Mesa.
Upon receiving a certified letter Feb. 20 from Martin, formally ending further negotiations, Houston Mesa board chairman Sheelah Golliglee said she believes the contract was not the real issue.
"The contract, itself, was written verbatim per the workshop with John Nelson on Feb. 5," Golliglee said. "They dismissed the entire contract without even seeing it. It's obvious that they never had any intention of continuing a service agreement with us."
Golliglee said she is now required by law to notify the ISO, which assigns fire ratings to communities that are used by insurance companies to assess risk. Notification of the change in coverage may adversely affect Beaver Valley's rating and thus insurance coverage and rates.
In a written statement provided to the Roundup, the Beaver Valley board pledged to "maintain a strong working relationship with all neighboring fire districts to provide the best possible responses for all emergency incidents."
The statement went on to state that since "none of the (Houston Mesa) proposals meet the needs of both fire districts ... The board is moving in another direction, with community involvement, and working toward a closer working relationship between our own Fire District and others, using our resources, volunteers, and community assistance to help achieve our goals."
The statement did not offer any plan to continue services to Beaver Valley while the board attempts to get its own district up and running.
During previous negotiations, board members said they did not currently have the money, equipment, nor the trained volunteers to field their own department, however, the written statement provided by Martin said: "We (Beaver Valley) can meet the needs of our own community, as well as assist in emergency incidents in neighboring communities, whenever called upon to do so."
Brown said he believes the Beaver Valley board had set its sights on an alliance with Whispering Pines long before re-negotiating its contract with Houston Mesa.
"I do understand that (Beaver Valley board members) are exploring options with Whispering Pines," Brown said.
According to Tom Carlson, chairman of the Whispering Pines volunteer fire district board, Whispering Pines is not in contract negotiations with Beaver Valley. He did say, however, that Whispering Pines would assist Beaver Valley with things such as training and brush removal.
"We are having general discussions about the larger questions affecting all of us, but we are not in negotiations," Carlson said. "I think it's time that all the districts of Rim country examine the larger picture and begin a coordinated effort to address issues of safety in our communities."
When the current contract with Houston Mesa expires March 13, residents in Beaver Valley will find out whether their new district is up to the task of fire protection and emergency medical response.