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2/6/2013 6:00:00 AM
Extent of Lake Mohave Rancho's fiscal problems still unclear

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

The lights will remain on at Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire District for a while longer, but how long they remain on is up to the administrator the Board of Supervisors unanimously decided to appoint Monday morning.

The Board hired John Flynn, a lobbyist for the Arizona Fire District Association, who has also helped two fire districts with financial difficulties in Navajo County this year.

Flynn could cost the county as much as $4,500 to $7,000 a month, according to County Attorney Bill Ekstrom. The county will be reimbursed for the cost by the fire district.

The fire district found itself in fiscal trouble this year after decreasing property tax revenue couldn't cover both its expenses and the payments on a $450,000 line of credit - but just how much trouble the district is in depends on who's doing the talking.

Byron Stewart, the Mohave County emergency management coordinator, told the Board of Supervisors that the fire district already spent more than $916,000 of its $945,041 projected tax revenues for the year.

If it continues to operate at its current level of service, the district's expenses could reach $1.8 million before the fiscal year ends in June, he said.

That figure includes a fee from the U.S. Department of Labor for not paying the district's employees, according to District 4 Supervisor Joy Brotherton. That fee could be as much as three times the district's biweekly payroll of $56,000.

Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire Chief Mark Hruz vehemently disagreed with the county's assessment of the situation and blamed the county for not collecting enough property taxes for the district.

"The district is not a million dollars in debt," he said.

Its current debt is $638,295, Hruz said.

Three residents, meanwhile, expressed their concerns about losing their local medical coverage and pleaded with the supervisors to keep the district open.

Both Golden Valley Fire District and Northern Consolidated Fire District have agreed to abide by the mutual aid agreements they signed with Lake Mohave Ranchos many years ago and provide emergency services to the community.

"Where we live, if we don't get help, we're dead," said Barbara Johnson, a resident of White Hills. "It's true, we did elect to live out there, but then there was help out there."

Arlene Thompson had a hard time accepting the fact that her property taxes subsidized emergency care for travelers on U.S. 93.

"Isn't there some way we can collect from these internationals that travel U.S. 93? Do we collect from them?" she asked. "Can we charge a per person rate?"

The fire district covers 144 square miles and includes Meadview and Dolan Springs. Its ambulance service covers more than 2,000 square miles. It's often called on to respond to accidents outside of its boundaries involving tourists traveling to Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk on U.S. 93 and Pierce Ferry Road, but despite sending bills to patients, it doesn't always get reimbursed.

The district has made reductions in everything it can, Hruz said. It can continue to operate, but it needs what's known as PILT money, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

PILT is a lump sum of money the federal government uses to reimburse counties for lost property taxes on federal land.

The county is not required to share the money, but Hruz and several supporters have argued the county owes those funds to the district.

According to Northern Consolidated Fire Chief Patrick Moore, fire districts are reimbursed for some of the cost of responding to emergencies on state and federal highways through the Arizona Fire District Assistance Tax. But FDAT funds are dolled out to fire districts based on the property values in their district.

A district with a low property value, such as Lake Mohave Ranchos, doesn't get much and the steady drop in property values hasn't helped the situation.

"This district has gotten along fine for the last 20 years. Can you tell me what changed in the last year?" asked District 5 Supervisor Steven Moss.

"It's the number of tourist incidents," Hruz said. The number of tourists involved in accidents on U.S. 93 and Pierce Ferry Road has increased along with the popularity of the Hualapai Tribe's Skywalk. The district doesn't always receive compensation for responding to those accidents.

Hruz also pointed out that the county has yet to collect $480,000 in taxes for the district. He said after he took office six months ago, he contacted former County Treasurer Melissa Havatone about the district's revenue problem.

According to Hruz, Havatone gave the district an advance based on the projected amount of tax revenue the district was expected to take in - but that tax revenue didn't come in.

"I've done everything I can to keep the two stations in Meadview and Dolan Springs open," Hruz said. "What am I supposed to do until the administrator gets here?"

Hruz agreed to keep the stations in Dolan Springs and Meadview open until Flynn arrived.

ICT - Kingman Honda
Related Stories:
• Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire District recovering financially
• Audit: Mohave County loans not legal
• Fire department's debts to Mohave County, bank could be cleared soon
• Troubled fire district on supervisors' agenda
• Golden Valley fire chief: Money's tight, but financials are solid
• Fire district workers get long-overdue payday
• Administrator: 'It's really bad'
• Fire district's doors to remain open

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
Article comment by: Jonathan Walker

"Mohave county is run by the fiscal conservative geniuses in the republcian party what is up with that?"

anon anon, yes there are so many glowing examples of liberals brilliantly running local economies. Detroit, Cleveland and the entire state of California come to mind. And Obama sure has turned everything around for our country hasn't he?

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Mohave county is run by the fiscal conservative geniuses in the republcian party what is up with that? Do they only have fiscal expertise as their motto or is a myth they perpetrate imagine if these folks did run the entire US government? I mean they did from 2000 to 2008 and drove the economy into a ditch and left it there! -)

Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

Well...there ya go. Just what I said in an earlier post..."$4,500 to $7,000 a month" for an administrator. Sounds like a nice gig.

If they are short on funds now, how will they ever be able to pay back that kind of money in any reasonable time?

You would think that someone qualified would do this on a volunteer basis.

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