Golder Ranch Fire District Asks For $26 Million, Finance Records Hard To Come By

Ballots went out this week in which the Golder Ranch Fire District asked residents to raise their property taxes once again and vote in favor of the $26.6 million bond. Ultimately, the total cost of the bonds including principal and interest is $45.2 million.

The bond is expected to increase the Golder Ranch Fire District (GRFD) portion of residents’ property taxes by $34 annually.

The District has sold the bond proposal to voters as “The Grand Wish List.” The list is detailed and indeed quite grand, however the stated purpose on the ballot is intentionally vague in order to allow the bond monies to be used for any facilities and facility related purposes whether they appeared on the “Wish List” or not.

The District has earned a reputation in the community as less than fiscally responsible overtime. Rumors of reckless spending and stories of inflated salaries have haunted the District. In an effort to separate rumor from fact, the Arizona Daily Independent filed a Request For Records on August 12, 2019 with the District. Among the records sought, were those related to the employment contract with Fire Chief Randy Karrer and travel costs.

By October 11, 2019 the District was able to produce a small fraction of the documents. Among the documents was a list of take-home vehicles and the names individuals to whom the vehicles are assigned VIEW HERE] and copies of Karrer’s contracts [VIEW HERE].

Karrer’s 2019 employment contract provides an annual salary of $176,500. In addition, Karrer receives added deferred compensation of $30,000 annually. The total is more than $200,000.He also receives an annual allowance of $850 for his uniforms. In addition, the contract grants him an annual amount of $9,700 for medical costs. He is also reimbursed for education and related expenses.

District revenues totaled nearly $31 million in 2018. Expenses almost equaled revenue. Administrative costs are approximately 24 percent of total spending.

Some bond proceeds will be used to retire debt assumed when GRFD merged with the Mountain Vista Fire Department in 2017. The interest on this debt is currently being paid from the GRFD operations and maintenance budget. This amount will “… provide funding to pay for firefighter equipment and apparatus…,” according to the bond information voter pamphlet.

In that same pamphlet, one resident, who describe himself as staunch supporter of police and fire departments, noted that some of the projects listed are not expected to be built until 2045. “It is irresponsible to issue bonds NOW for potential land and building requirements 25 years out,” wrote the unidentified resident. “Bond at the time they are needed. Don’t tax us for communities that haven’t even been built.”

Given the District’s inability to provide what should be easily accessed records in a timely fashion, the lack of support by some residents is understandable. And while Karrer’s travel expenses did not appear exorbitant, the fact that the documents were not readily available raises serious questions and doubts about the District’s management and priorities.

Hal Biestak, and Oro Valley resident wrote in the bond information voter pamphlet, “I don’t see anywhere in the proposed bond that passage will ensure an emergency vehicle will get me or anyone else any faster than it does now. That’s what it should be all about. So, what are we getting for a $26 million tax increase? It seems that any time a public sector entity, whether federal, local, or anywhere in between, wants more money, they reach into the pockets of the taxpayers. A large portion of the customer serve by Golder Ranch are senior citizens on fixed incomes. Citizens are expected to live within their means, public sector entities should do the same.”

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