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2/26/2013 5:58:00 AM
Fire chief laid off as district tries to regain financial footing

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire Chief Mark Hruz has been laid off and Battalion Chief Mike Pittway has been demoted as part of an effort to pull the financially troubled fire district out of debt.

Hruz's last official day with the district was Feb. 21 and Pittway has been offered a non-management position in the district, said Lake Mohave District Administrator John Flynn.

"The district owes a lot of money because of some really poor decisions made over the last few years," Flynn said. "The district didn't adjust its expenses to meet its revenues. If they had made adjustments 12 to 18 months ago they wouldn't be in as dire a position."

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors appointed Flynn to run the district earlier this month after the district reported that it couldn't pay its bills or its employees.

Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire Chief Patrick Moore will step in as acting chief and the two districts will share administration costs. Moore was unavailable for comment Monday.

Hruz said he will miss working for the district and raised concerns about cuts in staffing levels. The main station in Dolan Springs is currently staffed with a crew of four. The Meadview station is still fully staffed with volunteers.

Flynn said the Dolan Springs station was previously staffed with six paid employees and two paid employees were stationed in Meadview.

U.S. 93 is a major corridor between Las Vegas, Phoenix and the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West, Hruz said. Thousands of people travel that route every year in double-decker tour buses and rental cars and Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire District is the closest provider of emergency services.

"There were times when we couldn't transport a patient because we had to wait for (the Arizona Department of Public Safety) to arrive and clear the scene," he said. "There's too much potential out there. Those staffing levels will catch up with them."

"The district is greatly overstaffed," Flynn said. "The demographics and population of the district don't require the level of staffing they currently have."

The district had one battalion chief, two captains and one firefighter on duty at one time, he said.

The cuts should save the district more than $185,000 in annual salary costs, which should reduce the district's expenses by 70 percent, Flynn said. The district will pay Northern Consolidated approximately $18,847 to provide administration services until the end of the fiscal year in June.

"Do we really need $185,000 worth of administration to oversee two fire stations, one of which is a volunteer station?" Flynn asked.

Flynn said the decision to eliminate the chief and battalion chief positions came shortly after the district signed an agreement with Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District to help provide fire and emergency medical service to the fire district's residents on Feb. 21.

Flynn said he was more concerned about providing services to the community than preserving the jobs of the fire chief and a battalion chief.

The district found itself in a financial hole after declining property tax revenues forced it to take out a $450,000 line of credit that it couldn't pay back.

Revenues dip

According to the Mohave County Treasurer's Office, the district collected $966,869 in tax revenue in fiscal year 2008, $874,632 in fiscal year 2009 and $761,153 in fiscal year 2010. It has already collected and spent $475,209 this year.

The Mohave County Treasurer's Office did not have information on how much the district collects in revenue from the sale of fire service subscriptions and ambulance services.

Fire districts are allowed to take out a line of credit in order to bridge a gap in revenue until property tax revenues come in, Flynn said. However, that line of credit is supposed to be paid off at the end of each fiscal year.

Lake Mohave Ranchos carried over the balance of the line of credit from year to year, which is illegal, he said. Arizona fire districts are supposed to end their fiscal years with a balanced budget.

The issue is a civil matter rather than a criminal matter, Flynn said, so the district wouldn't be prosecuted for it. However, a taxpayer living in the district could file a civil complaint.

It would be unlikely that the bank that provided the line of credit would file a complaint, because the bank is already being paid, he said. In order to get the line of credit, the district had to agree to give the bank first dibs on all property tax revenues.

Flynn said his plan to pull the district of its financial hole should be finished by the end of this week.

Hruz said he inherited the district's financial problems from the previous chiefs. The $450,000 line of credit was supposed to be paid off before he took office in July of last year.

Hruz said he eliminated an assistant fire chief position and ended a contract that was costing the district approximately $80,000 a year. He also didn't fill vacant positions. He did admit to increasing firefighter pay from about $8 an hour to $10.

"We were losing a lot of firefighters to other districts," he said.

He was working on additional cuts when Flynn let him go.

"I did the best job I could with what I had. I have no regrets," Hruz said.

"I'm not here to find out what they did wrong. All I'm here for is to fix it," Flynn said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Article comment by: D M

I sure hope that I am never in an accident on the way to Las Vegas because these cuts will eventually cost lives. How about a tour bus crash? The raises were still barely a living wage my gosh is $10 - $12 per hour an unacceptable wage for someone potentially holding your life in their hands? Really people, don't you see that? Sometimes lives really are on the line and I prefer a living wage for the people saving mine!

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Article comment by: Donna Wickerd

Most of the problem is that we are serving areas where we do not collect taxes...many people reading these articles have no idea of the HUGE area we cover (the size of New England!), or that many of the accidents involve international tourists and out of state companies that never pay their bills! Should we just let these people die on the side of the road? Golden Valley may be a great fire district, but they are an hour away from DS and two hours from Meadview and Diamond Bar Rd. How many people will die before River Medical gets there---and who is going to pay for the jaws of life? Our volunteers! Please don't give up on our fire district, I have some great ideas to save it, but I need to save our school first!!!

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Article comment by: Rick Sherwood

@Learn the facts:
I completely agree. I am bewildered as to why there isn't more outrage over this. This affects peoples lives to say nothing about paying taxes and not getting service. I guess we haven't had that fire or serviced the right heart attack, but it will come. Then people will start asking,, what happened to our service. Meadview should go back to where it was and fend for itself.

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Article comment by: Learn Your Facts

@Me Me
Um... 2 completely different fire districts! GVFD may know how to budget their money and not give raises when not deserved! Just saying!
$185 thousand a year is a lot of money for supervisors who have done nothing but put Lake Mohave Ranchos into a hole! If I lived in this district I would be furious with those that had the control!

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: Me Me

Well surely GVFD can handle this area with that new expensive fire station. What is going on here, one chief gets laid off the other gets a brand new fire station?

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