Since 2013, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors has given away control to appointed Administrators of three fire districts. According to Supervisor Buster Johnson, two of those fire districts, taken over for a short period of time due to the loss of board members, were done so without the board or appointed Administrator having any knowledge of their current financial situation. “I am very concerned when we as a board take on another government agency without first requiring an audit of their finances,” Supervisor Johnson stated. “We know nothing about these fire districts and we are making decisions to appoint an administrator to find potential candidates to fill vacancies on these fire district boards without first being able to determine that those taking on the position and ourselves as a board are not getting into a financial disaster,” Johnson continued.
The first fire district taken on by County Supervisors in 2013 was Lake Mohave Ranchos Fire District. “The takeover of Lake Mohave Ranchos was done correctly. We hired an experienced administrator and performed an audit of their finances,” Supervisor Johnson explained. Still under the supervision of board appointed Administrator John Flynn, the financially insolvent district was given a $450,000 loan by Mohave County taxpayers to bring its finances back into the black. “The people who are elected to these positions needs to realize they are in a position where they are responsible for tax payer dollars,” Johnson continued.
In 2013, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors appointed a lady with no prior experience in running a fire district as Administrator of the Desert Hills Fire District after two board members resigned their position. Supervisor Johnson was the lone vote against her appointment. “I had nothing personal against the lady appointed, but I was not comfortable appointing an individual who had no experience running a fire district. There was also no contract to indemnify the county or the Administrator we appointed,” Johnson stated. “The board than appointed two members to the Desert Hills Fire District Board at her recommendation and then just walked away without any accountability regarding their finances. There are legal and financial requirements that need to be met that only an experienced individual would have the capability of handling,” Johnson continued.
The same reasoning was behind Supervisor Johnson’s latest no vote when it came to the appointment of an Administrator for the Oatman Fire District this past month. “While I appreciate individuals committing and for volunteering to do the job, the county is taking over another government agency without first doing an audit of their books,” Johnson stated. “The two individuals who resigned from the board stated their reasoning was because of allegations of violations of open meeting laws and concerns about the district’s financial practices. Before we agreed to take over this agency or appointment an Administrator we owe it to the taxpayers of that district to do an audit to ensure their money is being spent legally,” Johnson explained.
In 2012, Arizona voters approved Proposition 117 which created a single valuation system and limited properties’ valuation increase annually. For fire districts it put a cap of $3.25 for every $100 of assessed value. “There was once a time when fire districts could increase their tax levy ever year to whatever percentage they needed to address budget concerns,” Johnson explained. According to Arizona Tax Research Association President Kevin McCarthy, fire districts were the poster child for Prop 117. “The fire districts were among the most egregious “abusers” of the real estate boom in the last decade, when property valuations had skyrocketed, but many fire districts maintained their rates, instead of cutting them down,” McCarthy stated.
According to Supervisor Johnson, concerns regarding fire districts have been a problem since he first took office. “When I first got elected to office in 1996, one of the first concerns brought to me as a supervisor was problems in a fire district. These concerns have continued every year since. I have personally investigated or reviewed these complaints and have found a total lack of professionalism in our fire districts. This is not all of them but enough to cause concern for our taxpayers and those needing the emergency services supplied,” Johnson stated.
“These are government agencies with the power to tax the citizens,” Supervisor Johnson stated. “What does it say to the taxpayer when we give away that government agency to the first person to raise their hand, and then we do nothing to protect or account for their tax dollars? That is exactly what happened when we gave away these last two fire districts,” Johnson ended.