Cave Creek

 By Alex Chacon.

Cave Creek Town Council voted unanimously Aug. 16 to approve the lease and purchase of a property to remodel for the town’s first fire station, marking a big step toward becoming part of the automatic aid system and providing enhanced emergency services to the town.

The property, currently operated by Rural Metro, is located at 37042 N. Cave Creek Road and will be leased from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15, with the intent to fully purchase the property by mid-January of next year. This property was one of three options proposed by Jim Ford, deputy chief and fire marshal, who has been working with town officials on this project since November.

“I tried to make sure that I researched all of the cost-effective measures,” Ford said. 

“I researched three options: to obtain an existing facility and remodel it to the level we need it; obtain an existing facility that had extensive remodeling needs that was in the town; and, third, to buy a vacant piece of property and start from scratch. So, I went through the process of evaluating all those different options, and the option to obtain an existing facility, the facility that is currently being occupied by Rural Metro Fire Department, was best.”

Cave Creek has been hard pressed to create its own fire department since the two major fires destroyed more than 2,000 acres in May 2020. With no services of its own, the town had to rely on neighboring communities and even state aid. While it answered the call, Cave Creek received letters from Phoenix, Scottsdale and other towns who said they can’t continue to support Cave Creek if the town has nothing to bring to the table in return, according to Cave Creek Mayor Ernie Bunch.

“Fortunately, the cavalry came to the rescue,” he said. “But that town was in receipt of letters from several fire departments, Phoenix being the major one, claiming next time there’s an issue like that, they may not show up because they’ve got their own people to protect. So, that’s the reason we’re doing this, is to get into automatic aid, which is what a responsible community should do.”

Making that happen, however, will be an enormous expense, with initial operating costs forecasted at $2.7 million for one fully staffed fire station. Most of the expenses will be one-time startup costs, such as purchasing the station and the equipment needed. 

Town Manager Carrie Dyrek said the town has enough revenue to pay for the first two to three years, but will be in need of an additional revenue source for ongoing operating costs down the road. 

One suggested source of revenue is to impose a property tax, but, while in favor of establishing a fire department, the financing has been a point of contention for town members.

“I am a complete enthusiast of doing a fire department in Cave Creek, 100%. We need it and I’m all on board,” said Bruce Arlen in a public comment at the Aug. 16 town meeting. “There’s one thing, though, how are we going to finance this?”

Judy Freeze also made a public comment at the meeting and said, while she is in support of having a fire department, she was “very nervous” about a new tax and wanted to make sure other options were considered.

The way the system is now, residents pay for a subscription with Rural Metro for fire services. However, Ford said only about 40% of the town pays for this service. This creates an unfair system where some are paying high rates for protection, while the other 60% pay nothing and still receive the benefits by taking advance of their neighbors’ subscription. Essentially, it’s a broken system that can’t keep up.

The idea of a property tax may seem outrageous to some, but Bunch said for those paying for a Rural Metro subscription, it would work out in their favor. If the town has its own fire services, residents can stop paying for their subscription, and the cost of the property tax would be less than what they were paying.

Dyrek said there will be naysayers no matter what, but the town council and staff have looked at all the possible options for how to finance the fire department — both short term and long term — with financial professionals and consultants. She also pointed out that the town has not been secretive about its plans, and have had many public hearings, discussions and sent mail to every household detailing the project. In moving forward with implementing the fire department, the town will continue to have open communication with residents.

“We will have all those issues (about finances) discussed in stakeholder meetings, which are public meetings with the staff, financial professionals, a financial consultant and chief Ford so we can answer all those questions and explain all our options,” Dyrek said.

Some residents said the price is well worth it, as being included in the automatic aid system doesn’t just help with fire, it helps with all emergency services. Ford said over 70% of calls are for emergency medical services, and having automatic aid means faster response times, and, subsequently, a better outlook for those in need of medical attention. Pam Ikelberry recalled an incident she had two years ago and how, in a critical condition, she did not receive immediate help.

“We were redoing our backyard, and I fell into the 5-foot empty cement pool. Obviously, I was badly injured. My husband called 911,” she said. “Keep in mind, I throw like a girl, but I could hit station 72 with a baseball from my front yard. Since we don’t have automatic aid, 72 was not able to respond. They could have probably been there in a minute and a half to two minutes. I am very thankful to Rural Metro that they did come, but it took them about 10 minutes to get there. So, it’s very near and dear to my heart. There are some injuries that we can’t wait 10 minutes for. If we can get someone there in 2 minutes rather than 10, I think it’s crucial and I think we all deserve that.”

While there is not an estimated timeline for when the new fire station will be fully operational, Bunch said they don’t want to leave any residents unprotected. However, he also said they want to take the time to make sure everything is done right, in the most cost-effective and beneficial way possible.

A detailed description of the recent purchase and plan moving forward is available at https://bit.ly/

CCFireStation. Past community discussions regarding fire safety dating back to the first presentation on Feb. 16 can also be viewed at https://bit.ly/CCEmergencyMedicalServices.

Residents can subscribe for newsletters and updates at cavecreek.org.