Mohave County will review Golden Valley Fire's finances

Officials want to ensure the fire district can handle an ambulance service

KINGMAN - A cautious Mohave County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday to review the Golden Valley Fire District's financials as the district prepares to start a district-run ambulance service.

The special meeting was proposed by Supervisor Buster Johnson, citing concerns with the county's role in financial operations of fire districts. Supervisors voted unanimously in support of the scrutiny.

"We're just finishing the commitment of funds to bail out another fire district. We should make every effort to check the district's financials," said Johnson, who attended the meeting over the telephone.

He was referring to the Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire District, which had to seek outside help in 2013 because of financial shortfalls. The Board of Supervisors was considering folding the district into the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District.

"Considering the amount of money we have to come up with for Meadview Fire District (Lake Mohave Ranchos), it's only proper that the county takes a review," added Supervisor Gary Watson, also via phone.

The concern arose when Golden Valley Fire District received a Certificate of Necessity by the Arizona Department of Health Services late last month. The certificate allows the district to operate an ambulance service instead of the previous service provider, River Medical.

A divided governing board and vocal community members have voiced their financial concerns, and many of those voices appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue brought up the low tax levy on the residents of Golden Valley and was quick to remind the board that, according to the district's estimates, the service will bring in $1.8 million in the first year. He also stressed that the district is "a good steward of the taxpayer's money" with no debt, and that the opposition is a vocal minority.

"We don't work exclusively for the 2 percent that find the fault in everything that goes on," he stated.

GVFD board of directors members Paul Gorham and Steve Robinson also voiced support of the ambulance service and attested to the district's financial state. Gorham said that the district has $1.3 million in the bank and that the ambulance service "will pay for itself on startup."

Robinson said that the district has managed its finances well despite dwindling tax revenue.

Fellow director Jack Hommel, a staunch opponent of the ambulance service, referred to the endeavor as something that "will be damaging beyond all description to the community" and that the state's report confirms that the ambulance service will operate at a deficit in its first year.

Jon Valentine from River Medical, the current ambulance service provider, reminded the Board of Supervisors that the issue is not complete.

"This CON for Golden Valley is still going through the legal process," said Valentine, referring to the 30-day wait period for review and a possible decision from the state up to 20 days after that.

"There was not a problem with service at that location," said Valentine. "There was a discrepancy at that law judge. The response times were incorrect, and I came here today to answer any questions you may have."

Before going to a vote, Supervisor Jean Bishop called on Gene Hepler from the Office of Management and Budget for input.

"The GVFD did turn in their audit and financials for 2014. Although there were issues, none of them showed financial problems," said Hepler.

"What would another audit show?" asked Bishop

"My understating, we have no grounds to go in and audit," he responded.

Supervisor Steven Moss was more direct in his feelings on the issue: "I'm getting the sense here that essentially there's a feud in Golden Valley. There's one group opposed to the CON, and one group that supports it. The group that supports it appears to be the elected.

"The GVFD is an independent board. Voters decide who sits on that board. Do people think that Mohave County will somehow undo their intended course of action? If you think the board here is allowed to sit here and judge on GVFD, we are not."

The Fire District's next board meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Public Safety Training Center, 423 S. Colorado Road.