Gilbert county island residents marched into Maricopa County offices Friday and declared their latest victory as they turned over a 4-inch stack of petitions they promised would form a fire district.
“The numbers are safe. A fire district will be formed,” said county island petition leader Marci Sale. “You do not have to be forced into annexation.”
Rural/Metro Fire Department announced Nov. 1 that the company would end longtime services to the area July 1 — news that sparked a struggle among county island residents on whether to be annexed into Gilbert for services or back a new law created in February that allows county islanders to join a fire district and pay for town fire services without annexation.
A handful of residents among more than 70 who collected the signatures met in downtown Phoenix to turn in petitions signed by 1,811 property owners of an estimated 3,200. The number of signatures should be a few hundred more than needed, organizers said. The law requires a majority — 50 percent, plus one — of property owners to sign.
“I don’t think they understood how widespread the support is to get these signed,” said island petition leader Donna Davis.
The land owners signing the petition own 2,104 parcels of about 3,800 parcels in town islands, organizers said. The numbers, however, are fluid with about 96 parcels expected to complete annexation early next week and about 60 other annexation cases under way. County islanders turned in stacks of official documents they said verify the authenticity of the signatures on the petitions.
Fran McCarroll, clerk of the county Board of Supervisors, said it should take about two weeks to verify the signatures. If there are enough valid signatures, the supervisors will vote on whether to approve a fire board.
The new fire board’s first action would be to put out a request for bids from anyone willing to provide the fire service. If none are received in 30 days, the Gilbert Fire Department must begin providing coverage under the law.
Town officials have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the fire district law if the petitions are approved.
The town also is researching the cost of providing fire service. Under the law, county island households would each pay a $621 fee annually the first three years for the service, and then about $250 to $300 annually — an amount town officials say is not enough to pay for the costs of service.
“You’re playing poker with somebody else’s kids on the table to the extent you’re trying to keep people from (annexing), and keeping them at risk,” Mayor Steve Berman said during a Tuesday Town Council meeting. “The only way you’re getting Gilbert Fire Department to your door after July 1 is if you’re members of the town.”
Tensions have run high on the issue, as was illustrated during the meeting as several heated comments were heard.
For instance, one man grabbed attention at the back of the room when he pounded his fists and shouted, “I don’t want anything to do with Gilbert!”