Budget-Battered Fire District Needs New Board Member – Again

Hellsgate plagued by recent turnovers, declining revenues and rising demand

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The Hellsgate Fire Board needs a new board member after an unexpected vacancy — the third such opening in three months.

In June, 15-year board veteran Richard Pinkerton died from cancer. Also that month, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office arrested relatively new board member Fred Horton at his Star Valley home on criminal charges.

Then just recently, board chair Larry Corry announced his resignation due to health concerns.

Fire Chief Gary Hatch said for a board that has remained relatively stable, the recent vacancies have come as a surprise.

Unfortunately, the fire district is also grappling with declining property values that have slashed revenues just as the district has hit the state-mandated limit on how much property tax it can assess residents.

The Gila County Assessor’s Office said that property values have dropped by about 10 percent for the most recent assessment cycle. Although values have begun to rise again in recent months, the district won’t see its property tax revenues rise until about 2015.

In May last year, the district almost laid off four of its fire truck engineers because of a $175,000 deficit. At the last minute, the department won a federal SAFER grant, which is paying the four firefighters’ salaries through next year. The district’s battalion chief said the department plans to apply for the grant again. If it doesn’t land the federal money, the district may have to again resort to layoffs.

Hatch said the district needs a board member who can wade through the budget crisis and help maintain services. He praised the previous board for sound decisions that kept the insurance ISO rating low, staffing levels up and the budget balanced. A low ISO rating saves homeowners money on home insurance.

“We have had such a solid board,” he said.

After Pinkerton’s passing, the board selected Garrah Monnich to fill his seat. Monnich ran for the board last year, but lost.

The board recently appointed Jeff Shaw to fill Corry’s position. Shaw, a Tonto Village resident, previously worked as a reserve firefighter and was in the processes of rejoining the Hellsgate district as a reserve when he fell from scaffolding near Kohl’s Ranch.

Although he can no longer serve the district from the field, the board is happy to have him as a board member, Hatch said.

With Corry leaving, the board elected Gary Norem as the new chair.

That leaves one open position on the five-member board.

The district is taking applications and hopes to fill the position Sept. 11.

“I am impressed with the four that we have, I know they will choose someone who can represent us,” Hatch said.

For more information or to apply for the board, contact Hellsgate at (928) 474-3835.

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