Citing a list of negative impacts that the City of Nogales’ annexation plans could cause, the Rio Rico Fire District governing board voted to hire a consultant to study exactly what would change for RRFD and the Nogales Suburban Fire District if the city takes over part of their jurisdictions.
The board also wants the consultant to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a potential merger between RRFD and Nogales Suburban if the annexation move is successful.
But as they await the consultant’s conclusions, RRFD is already set to actively oppose the annexation plan for the second time around.
“There’s a portion of the annexation that will affect the district and it does have a ripple effect,” RRFD Chief Adam Amezaga told the board during its meeting on Monday. “This is that part where everything sounds good on paper, but they’re not looking at the big impact, so we want to team up.”
Amezaga asked the board permission to work with Nogales Suburban “to fight the annexation.”
On Dec. 4, the Nogales mayor and council unanimously approved a petition to annex an unincorporated area north of city limits, which would take several neighborhoods out of the Rio Rico and Nogales Suburban fire districts and provide them fire and emergency medical services through the Nogales Fire Department. The city now needs to collect signatures from a majority of property owners in the area before it can pass an annexation ordinance.
A similar effort died in 2014, and was loudly opposed at the time by RRFD.
Amezaga said that he, along with board members Michael Vohland and Michael Carlson, spoke with Nogales Suburban personnel prior to Monday’s RRFD meeting, and the big question was how each district would cover their respective areas, since annexation would affect their taxes, overall funding and personnel numbers.
Amezaga complained that the city isn’t taking into consideration how annexation would affect those RRFD and Nogales Suburban residents living outside the annexed area.
“We have the Kino Springs, people that are on South River Road, people in Duquesne, so people are just kind of forgotten about, left in the cold,” he said, referencing parts of the two districts that don’t fall within the annex map the city has released.
If the annexation effort were to succeed, Amezaga said, Nogales Suburban would be at risk of losing 60 percent of its overall budget as it tries to continue providing services to the remaining area.
“I don’t think they can survive, and they don’t think they would be (able to), either,” board member Michael Vohland said.
Board member Frank Bejarano wanted to know what ripple effect the hit to Nogales Suburban might have on RRFD.
“Are we going to be covering most of it?” he asked in regard to non-annexed areas of the neighboring district. “We do assist and that’s going to impact our manpower, and also, whose taxes are available to us?”
Turning their attention to the land covered by their own district, Amezaga said RRFD would have to compensate for the lost revenue with other measures.
“As we lose those homes and those taxes, then the people that still live within the area, their taxes are going to go up,” he said.
Another question that remains unclear, Amezaga said, is how much time the city would have after the annexation to begin providing services to the new area.
“What I didn’t like was that there was no plan set in place, and that’s something that bothered me. There’s nothing that the city could present to say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it,’” Amezaga said.
Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino told the NI following the city’s Dec. 4 vote that concerns over fire district revenues might be exaggerated and he expected the city would hire “about five” new firefighters to handle the extra coverage area.
On Monday, RRFD board members Vohland, Bejarano, Michael Carlson and Brad Beach voted unanimously to begin discussions with Nogales Suburban, and hire the accounting firm BeachFleishman to do a cost-benefit analysis of both a scenario in which the annexation plan succeeds, and one in which it doesn’t.
In the meantime, RRFD union president Mike Fielder will lead a separate effort, asking residents of the affected areas to not sign the petition for annexation, Amezaga said.
“There’s a lot that needs to be discussed and I think we need answers,” Bejarano said.