Four months after Gilbert began providing protection to the Gilbert County Island Fire District, relations between district and fire department officials appear to be running smoothly as residents prepare to select thefirst elected board Tuesday.
"I'm very happy with Gilbert's response, considering everything that's happened," district board chairwoman Marci Sale said Friday.
Town officials and county islanders had been locked in a nearly three-year battle over whether residents of the unincorporated area were entitled to service from the Gilbert Fire Department after the private Rural/Metro Fire Department pulled out of the area.
Arguments got nasty at times over whether islanders had unrealistic expectations for the amount of service they would require and by extension what they should pay the town. But Sale said Gilbert fire Chief Collin Dewitt has attended all of the board's meetings and a good working relationship has been established.
Dewitt agreed communications have been smooth between the town and the board and said he briefs the board monthly on the department's activity within the district, including the number of calls for service.
Gilbert fire crews were called to county addresses 39 times from June through the end of September.
ASKING FOR NUMBERS
Some Town Council members asked for these numbers during their Tuesday meeting after Town Manager George Pettit briefed them on another fire district-related issue.
Councilman Don Skousen asked if fire district residents, some of whom said they didn't expect more than one or two calls a month to come in from their areas, were being notified of how many calls were actually coming in.
"The number of times is much more than they thought it was going to be when they were negotiating this," Skousen said.
Mayor Steve Berman, who will face Skousen in this spring's upcoming mayoral election, agreed.
"I think we owe it to our citizens to let them know the amount of services people really are requiring, to show them we really weren't trying to be unreasonable," Berman said.
Councilman Les Presmyk said he didn't think publicizing the numbers would help anybody without providing additional context on the issue, and there weren't that many who expected only a couple of calls a month. The issue of whether to compile and publicize the figures could come up at a future meeting.
Sale said the numbers she was seeing so far were in line with what she had been expecting.
"Thirty-nine calls over 120 days come out to about one call every three days, which is what we predicted," she said. Of those 39 calls, 26 were for medical emergencies. While there were only eight fire calls, they tended to be more labor-intensive, with one Sept. 16 blaze requiring a response from nine units.
Dewitt said the lack of fire hydrants in some county islands could have contributed to the number of trucks sent out.
"We had to assess when to send two or three more units out to take care of it when there is no water," he said.
Some of those issues will have to be ironed out by the new board elected on Tuesday. The board to be elected by the approximately 1,500 residents in the district will replace the one appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors when the district was initially formed in January.
Six people are running for five spots on the new board, including the three who sit on the current appointed board: Sale, Cindy Biggs and Steve Kalandros. The other candidates are Ron Beyerle, Leni Cazden and Carlos Mejia.
Cazden, whose eminent-domain fight with Gilbert over property the town wants for widening Higley Road landed her in the news a year ago, said she's running because the board needs five members in order to be effective, because the three on the current board can't talk to each other outside a meeting without forming a quorum and breaking the state Open Meetings Law.
She said she has been so preoccupied by the court case on the road widening that she's not really up to speed on what's happening in the fire district, but she decided to run "to act as a check on the abusiveness of Gilbert in the county islands."
However, she wants to find a balance between the town's needs and relief for county islanders who have seen their tax burdens soar over the last few years.
"I'm in this with goodwill for finding a compromise, because I don't see compromise as a weakness if we can move everything forward," she said.