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Phoenix plans to put fire services on March ballot

PHOENIX — The City Council agreed Monday to place a measure on the March ballot asking voters whether city fire services should be permanently shifted to Jackson County Fire District 5.

Since Oct. 1, fire and emergency medical protection have been provided by contract with District 5. That came after city officials spent several months deliberating over shortfalls in the city's general fund and a lack of adequate funding for fire services.

They said the move would lower costs, ensure faster response times and provide job security for the city's fire personnel.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto said the city approved the ballot measure Monday to ensure necessary paperwork was filed on time. District 5 officials approved a similar measure in recent weeks, which will require approval by existing district customers in March before annexation can take place.

DeBritto said the only potential issue for voters could be a property tax increase of 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Currently, city residents pay $2.85 per $1,000 for a public safety levy, while fire district patrons pay $3.19 per $1,000.

Councilman Gary Reed said a city-run fire department would have cost significantly more. Estimates called for the taxes to rise to $4 per $1,000 or more. "So the district is far more cost-effective," Reed said, —¦ and at this point, I haven't heard any complaints about anything we have going."

Reed said the fire district offers other advantages.

"When you do a comparison, currently, our fire department is being managed by a mayor and council. So you've got six people here, or seven, that are volunteer people from different diversities that are managing a fire department."

Reed said Fire District 5's management staff has about 50 years of combined experience.

District 5 Fire Chief Dan Marshall said the arrangement has worked well so far for city residents and existing district customers.

"It's been about two months and operations are going very smooth," said Marshall.

DeBritto and Marshall both said town hall-style meetings would be held prior to the March election to discuss the proposal.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.