Beaver Valley Fire Seeks Autonomy From Houston Mesa

Contract dispute could affect emergency services

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Unless an agreement is reached between the Houston Mesa Volunteer Fire District Board and the Beaver Valley Fire Volunteer Fire District Board, emergency service to residents of Beaver Valley could be in question. An agreement must be hammered out by March 13, the day the current contract expires.

A workshop held Saturday failed to clarify or resolve disagreements that led to the Beaver Valley Board's threat of secession from the combined departments.

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Houston Mesa Volunteer Fire District Board Chairman Sheelah Golliglee, Fire Chief Frank Hansen and Administrative Secretary Lorna Hansen, proposed the continuation of emergency services to Beaver Valley.

The Houston Mesa Fire District, formerly the Mesa del Caballo Fire District, has provided fire and paramedic service to the community of Beaver Valley at a varying cost, reflected in a tax rate that has fluctuated between 2.1 percent and 2.5 percent over the past two years.

When the current board of the Beaver Valley Fire District took control at the beginning of December, the five members announced that they wanted to take immediate steps to become an independent volunteer fire department, separate from Houston Mesa, and appointed Beaver Valley resident Duke Arrington as fire chief.

In an effort to secure more funds for the expenses associated with starting an independent and adequate fire department, Beaver Valley board chairman Larry Martin proposed a payment of $1,100 per month to Houston Mesa for fire and paramedic coverage. This is about one-fifth of the amount previously paid.

The remainder of funds, about $45,000, Martin said, would be used to start up the Beaver Valley fire department.

Sheelah Golliglee, chairman of the Houston Mesa board, said that a payment of $1,100 per month to cover their district was "absurd". She said it would be hard to justify to her district. Golliglee said the Houston Mesa District's residents have been paying a higher tax rate to support Beaver Valley's shortfall.

"Each paramedic call we come out here on costs us about $2,000. We've been here (in Beaver Valley) eight times this month," Golliglee said.

Martin responded by saying that paying any higher than $1,100 per month would prevent Beaver Valley from being able to build their own department. He said Houston Mesa committed to help them form the department in an intergovernmental agreement signed by both boards in February of 2001.

Houston Mesa Fire Chief Frank Hansen said Beaver Valley has neither the manpower nor the finances to field their own department.

"If you try to start up your own department without the necessary finances, manpower and equipment, you will lower the quality of service to your citizens," Hansen said.

During negotiations, Golliglee and Hansen proposed that the two departments remain one until Beaver Valley can demonstrate adequate resources to provide the level of service that Houston Mesa currently offers.

"(Houston Mesa) can offer (the residents of Beaver Valley) a reduced tax rate of 1.9 percent, the lowest in Gila County, which would allow you the bank the rest and save money for your department. Meanwhile, HMFD can assist you with grant writing and training," Golliglee said.

The kind of equipment and manpower Beaver Valley presently has remains a point of contention between the sides. Still in question is the role of Arrington as fire chief, following his conviction for possessing more than four pounds of marijuana, something Martin calls "a personal matter."

Although Arrington was not present at the workshop, he told the Roundup that he would continue the process of being recertified as a paramedic, but would not know for sure whether he would be allowed recertification until a later date.

Arrington also said that he has between 12 and 16 volunteers he will train for a new Beaver Valley district.

The five, certified volunteers in the Houston Mesa district, who live in Beaver Valley, have chosen to stay with Houston Mesa.

Paramedic Tim Lynch, is Houston Mesa's director of medical services and a resident of Beaver Valley. Lynch said the reasons for the Beaver Valley board's decision to split with Houston Mesa are "all the wrong reasons."

"I'd understand it if the HMFD was not providing good service, but this is nothing more than a personality conflict and has nothing to do with what's best for the people of Beaver Valley," Lynch said. "They (Beaver Valley) don't understand what it takes to operate an effective fire department. HMFD's budget is about $100,000 a year and Whispering Pines, $200,000 a year."

Payson Fire Chief John Ross told the Roundup that he takes a neutral stance on the issue of Beaver Valley's quest to split off from Houston Mesa.

"I will say, though, that I believe the citizens of Beaver Valley should be able to choose their own destiny," Ross said.

Both parties continue to disagree about the level of community support for an independent fire department in Beaver Valley.

When asked about support, Martin stated that "informal polls taken suggest a majority support." Supporters of continued service by Houston Mesa deny this.

"Where are these informal polls?" asked Lucy Kieft, head of the Beaver Valley Auxiliary. "There is a petition signed by 76 residents requesting that we stay with the HMFD."

The Roundup was given a copy of a petition in which residents of Beaver Valley request that the their board enter into an agreement with Houston Mesa for services that include emergency fire, medical, and rescue response. The petition was signed by 80 individuals, more than half of BV's estimated full-time, adult residents.

Martin said at the workshop that the community's opinion has "not been proven in any petition."

Arrington said that many residents "did not understand what they were signing".

At a Beaver Valley board meeting, held Monday, members agreed to continue negotiations with both the Houston Mesa and Whispering Pines Fire Department.

"Maybe we don't need a fire department. We can go back to having nothing for six months," board member Ray Friesen said.

"I don't understand why they (BVFD Board) keep coming back to the issue of money," Golliglee said. "We're talking about human lives. You can't quantify that."

Another workshop between the boards is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Beaver Valley Fire Station. The workshop is open to the public and will be attended by Gila County manager John Nelson.

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