Vote on merger of fire districts unanimous

KINGMAN - The dominoes have been lined up and the action has begun with the unanimous approval of the Valle Vista and Hualapai Valley fire districts merger by the Valle Vista district board Wednesday.

Audience members were a little more civil than at the last Valle Vista board meeting, but a lot more long-winded before the deciding votes were cast.

Individuals continued to speak out against the merger and against Hualapai Valley Fire Chief Wayne L. Eder prior to the board voting.

"There's so many dirty wash on the line we've got to clean up first," Jay Kulp said.

Kulp, 75, of Valle Vista added he wasn't against the merger, but believed now wasn't the time for it.

Chairman Roger A. Leggett, Secretary-Treasurer Eugene W. Newman and Board Member James C. McCarthy all voted in favor of the merger. Combined with the unanimous approval of the merger by the Hualapai Valley board at their Nov. 30 meeting, the merger was approved.

Both boards were presented an information package prepared by Eder and Valle Vista Fire Chief Victor A. Riccardi Jr. about the benefits of the merger and used it to help make their decisions.

Newman was considered by many residents in Valle Vista to be the crucial deciding vote after he suggested pushing the decision on the merger from the November board meeting to December so the board could further examine the merger and see how the Hualapai Valley board voted.

He addressed the public at the meeting, explaining what he had done since the last meeting in regards to investigating the merger.

"Last meeting I wanted it go to election, but it's impossible," Newman said.

He was referring to ARS 48-820, revised on June 6, calling for fire district mergers to require unanimous approval by the board for certain fire districts for mergers to be approved. Valle Vista is one of those fire districts.

He also discussed double checking the budgets for both districts, speaking to both fire chiefs and certified public accountants about financial and other aspects of the merger, and going over the timeline of the merger back to its origins in December 2005.

"I just did my homework," Newman said after the meeting. "I satisfied myself."

Newman expressed hope that in the future Valle Vista would be able to get a certificate of necessity in order to have an ambulance based out of the district.

Riverside Medical Operations Manager Mike Caswell addressed the board during the meeting, explaining there is a long process to obtain the certificate in which the district must contact the Arizona Department of Health Services before Riverside Medical will even hold a hearing on it.

"There's no guarantee at all a certificate of necessity will be issued," Caswell said.

Riccardi agreed with Caswell there are no guarantees for certification.

"It's a huge process," Riccardi said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we're not going to not try it."

Obtaining a certificate of necessity is the only task facing the now combined districts. Both boards now must converge and decide who will stay and who will go within 30 days.

The combined board will feature three of the current five HVFD board members and two of the current three VVFD board members. They would then decide, within the same time frame, the name of the new fire district and who the chief would be.