3/19/2013 6:00:00 AM Most extreme fire district bills meet resistance
Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa Miner Staff Reporter
KINGMAN - The Arizona Legislature is backing away from some of the more radical proposals to reform the rules governing fire districts in the state.
Of the four bills that deal directly with rural fire districts introduced this year, three are waiting to be approved by both houses and one is being held in committee.
Two of the bills describe a number of new financial hoops fire districts will have to go through, if the bills are signed into law. The other two deal with turning control of fire districts to county governments.
Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire Chief Patrick Moore said most of the bills wouldn't have a large effect on his district this year.
"We go through this every year," he said. "Most of the bills this year deal with collections and personnel. None of them have any real bite, not like the year they limited our assessed values and how much we could increase our tax rate percentage."
The only two bills Moore was concerned about dealt with turning control of fire districts over to county governments, but it looks as though the Legislature is reconsidering those bills.
House Bill 2200 and Senate Bill 1282 would have allowed counties to create their own countywide fire districts and/or take over fire districts that have dissolved because of financial difficulties.
A number of county boards of supervisors and fire districts opposed the bills.
The bills didn't say how counties were supposed to take over the districts or create a new district and they didn't define how the finances for each district would be handled, Moore said.
"There is value in consolidating districts," Moore said. "But only if you do your homework first."
That's the course the Legislature is currently taking with both bills. Senate Bill 1282 was amended and now requires the state to set up a committee to study fire districts and make recommendations on how counties oversee the districts, how they are funded, ways of preventing them from being mismanaged, and possible alternatives to individual fire districts, such as creating a countywide district.
The committee is required to provide a report to the Legislature, the secretary of state and the governor by Dec.31.
The bill is currently sitting in the House Rules Committee.
House Bill 2200 is currently being held in the Arizona House of Representatives' Committee on Government and will likely never make it to the floor.
The remaining bills put some teeth behind the requirements that fire districts keep an eye on their bottom lines.
House Bill 2572 prohibits all fire districts from holding accounts with different banks for payroll, grants or special revenues. Instead, all funds must be held in the county's servicing bank.
The bill also requires districts to reconcile and update all accounts and the district's cash flow on a monthly basis. Districts are also required to report any financial troubles to the county treasurer and the board of supervisors.
HB 2572 is currently in the Senate Rules and Government and Environment committees.
Senate Bill 1292 requires fire districts that designate a board member to be in charge of the district's financial books give that person unfettered access to those books. The bill is currently sitting in the House Caucus.
Moore said he supports these bills.
"They're designed to put more stopgaps in place and more onus on the people who get these districts in those positions (of financial instability)," he said.