Fire district to weigh Ritz-Carlton proposal - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Fire district to weigh Ritz-Carlton proposal

Plan would limit service while reducing resort's payout

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Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:34 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

The Northwest Fire District Governing Board next Tuesday will consider whether to approve a plan to provide a reduced level of emergency services at a reduced cost for the Ritz-Carlton resort and golf club.

The board will also consider a pre-annexation agreement for the development’s planned million-dollar homes.

Under the plan proposed by Cottonwood Properties, the Dove Mountain resort’s developer, the golf club and hotel would not be annexed into the fire district.

The resort would provide for its own non-emergency services.

For emergency fire and medical services, plan reviews and building inspections, the resort’s developers would pay the fire district $36,000 the first year and $30,000 a year thereafter for the golf club, and $124,000 the first year and $120,000 a year thereafter for the hotel.

“Effectively, the hotel and clubhouse would pay about half of what would be paid if the two properties were annexed,” according to fire district documents.

The resort complexes would pay roughly the same rate annually for fire protection as a residential customer, based on a 10-percent residential assessment ratio.

The commercial assessment ratio stands at 23 percent, but it will decrease to 20 percent in 2011.

“Arizona’s tax structure is causing private developments to seek these sorts of concessions,” Northwest Fire Chief Jeff Piechura said this week.

It costs about $1.1 million a year to operate the district’s Dove Mountain fire station, which would respond to emergencies in the resort area and its surrounding homes.

“I would prefer annexation of the entire parcel without the caveats,” Piechura said this week. “But, we’re looking at it from both sides.”

The resort is trying to spare itself additional expenses, the chief conceded. But, the million-dollar homes would, over time, inject a healthy dose of cash annually to the district’s coffers.

The Ritz-Carlton will have the staff on-site to handle all non-emergency calls, according to Bill Hallinan, vice president of Cottonwood Properties.

“Use of a contract provides a means to account for the services customarily provided by the district and in this case also provided by Ritz-Carlton,” Hallinan said in an e-mail. “The rate was arrived at after considering the medical services provided by the facility, the use of sprinklers within the property and surrounding development, the economy of having such a large facility, and the benefits of having the surrounding land with high values and corresponding assessments within the district.”

If the fire district board were to reject the Ritz proposal, Piechura said, then the developers would need to contract with another firm for emergency services, creating “its own little fire protection zone.”

The Ritz-Carlton proposal has drawn some early criticism from the Pima Association of Tax-Payers. Mary Schuh, a member of the watchdog group, remains leery of the proposal. “I think any taxpayer should be,” she said.

“I think this needs a great deal of study before we begin a precedent,” Schuh added. “There’s a fairness issue of all businesses being treated equally.”

The discounted contract Ritz-Carlton seeks likely puts it at a “competitive advantage” to other area resorts of similar size, she suggested.

Also, she questioned whether the proposal might violate the state’s so-called “gift clause,” which prohibits governments from giving businesses preferential treatment.

The fire board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the district’s training facility, 8165 N. Wade Road, in the Continental Ranch-area of Marana.

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