Gilbert would lose $5.1 million over five years if the town is forced to provide fire services to county islands, according to a financial report presented Tuesday on the first day of trial in a lawsuit the town filed against Maricopa County.
But attorneys for the county and its residents, who are seeking to create a fire district that could force Gilbert to protect them, claimed the report actually proves that the proposed fire district is affordable to the town.
A new law passed in February gives county islanders the ability to force Gilbert to provide fire service for a fee, if no other entity offers service. Gilbert filed the lawsuit, claiming the law is unconstitutional because it singles out the town despite other municipalities having similar problems.
“We will have to limit expenditures within town” to help pay for those services, Town Manager George Pettit testified in Maricopa County Superior Court.
He said the expense to the town could mean cuts to police, fire or park services.
The cost over five years would be about $5.1 million after subtracting the total fees that county island residents would pay under the law and other financing.
MuniFinancial, a consultant that calculated the costs, found it would cost $5.6 million for the town to install 380 fire hydrants. The town also would need to spend $628,000 to finance the district and purchase specialty equipment, the report states.
Tom Irvine, an attorney for three county islanders singled out in the lawsuit, argued that if the town forgoes installing the hydrants it could be in the black within three years.
The hydrants and other capital expenses aside, Muni-Financial found that operating the fire district for about 9,000 county island residents would put Gilbert in debt in 2006-07 by $130,000 and in 2007-08 by $53,269. But, by fiscal 2008-09, Gilbert would be receiving $32,503 more than needed from the county islanders and by 2010-11, the town would be $136,409 in the black, the report states.
Fire Chief Collin DeWitt testified that the estimates of 380 hydrants was “very conservative,” and that the hydrants are important to firefighter safety and delivering services to the islands. He repeated that Gilbert as of today will not respond to county island fires once Rural/ Metro Fire Department leaves the area July 1 — a comment that later sparked outrage among islanders.
“The town is justifying that it’s OK for kids to burn or drown, and grandparents to drown,” said county island resident Marci Sale.
Judge Colin Campbell recessed the trial until Tuesday.