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GVFD Chief pushes for more annexation progress

Green Valley Fire District’s annexation efforts in northern Sahuarita have crossed the halfway mark for the initial phase, but the district’s chief wants to see momentum increase to meet targeted deadlines.

The Sahuarita Town Council gave GVFD its go-ahead on Jan. 23. In October, the town’s subscription-based fire and emergency service provider, Rural Metro, informed them it would discontinue operations in the area. Rural Metro Chief Karl Isselhard has told the Town Council that a lack of subscriptions and increased costs led to the company’s decision to leave Sahuarita.

During the May 8 Town Council meeting, Isselhard told council members that Rural Metro’s subscription rates were around 43% for the last few years. During the same meeting, he told the council that the company closed Fire Station No. 82 in northern Rancho Sahuarita, saving the company around $300,000 in leases. Rural Metro has one remaining station in Sahuarita, No. 79, behind McDonald’s on Sahuarita Road.

On Monday, GVFD Chief Chuck Wunder told council members that the district is about 60% toward its signature requirement target and about 50% toward the total required valuation.

“A little bit of reminder, the statute requires that you have 50% plus 1 of the total property owners in the area, and 50% plus 1 of the total valuation for the areas,” he said during the call to the public. “So, those are the two marks that we’re trying to achieve. And, so, it’s moving along nicely.”

Wunder told the council that he was pleased with the progress the annexation effort made during the previous 57 days but wanted to complete the requirements with some wiggle room to meet state revenue deadlines that would make it possible to begin service on time.

“The real big issue here for fire protection is the town would like us to assume this protection beginning July 1, 2024,” Wunder told the Green Valley News on Tuesday. “In order to make that happen, obviously, we have to have tax revenue to pay for it.”

GVFD would need to submit the paperwork to get on the tax rolls for 2024 with the Arizona Department of Revenue by the end of October. Wunder said it’s a short time frame to make it happen despite the annexation’s progress.

“So things are going well. I don’t want to create panic like we’re going the wrong way,” Wunder said.

But Wunder added that the message is “It’s time to sign.”  He said meeting the valuation and signature requirements as early as possible would give GVFD time to address any challenges or corrections that might come up along the way. He also said it would give Pima County time to review the signatures.

So far, GVFD has more than 2,800 signatures, with 2,480 verified. Wunder said that it takes time to verify the person signing qualifies.

Wunder found the biggest challenge so far is connecting with people within the annexation boundaries. He said petitioners go door to door, but some people won’t answer and likely mistake them for other solicitors.

GVFD also has regular signing tables at Fry’s in Rancho Sahuarita on Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wunder said they also plan to set up at the town’s upcoming Fourth of July event.

But Wunder wants to see more progress in getting area businesses and developers on board since they play a large role in the valuation requirement for annexation.

“Well, obviously, businesses or large developers have some significant valuation to their properties,” he said.

Wunder remained optimistic that businesses would sign, stating they just haven’t done so “yet.”

“It’s important that they sign because that will expedite this process and get us to where we need to be,” Wunder said.

By Jorge Encinas Jun 13, 2023