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10:19 AM Fri, Oct. 19th

Arizona Attorney General: CAFMA is legal entity, does not disenfranchise voters

State representatives get answers to most questions

The Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) is a legal entity under Arizona law, according to a recent opinion released by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, the agreement entered into by the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) and the Chino Valley Fire District (CVFD) to form CAFMA in 2015 does not disenfranchise CYFD voters or otherwise violate the Arizona Constitution.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office was asked to look carefully at these matters by Arizona State Representatives David Stringer and Noel Campbell. The two representatives initially submitted an opinion request to the Attorney General’s Office regarding the topic back in mid-2017.

“We wanted to make sure that what [the CYFD and CVFD] did was constituted right, because there had been complaints from concerned citizens about it,” Campbell said.

“I mean, I’m not an attorney, so we asked the attorney general to look at the arrangement to see if it was proper.”

Six months passed with no response, so they asked what was going on.

“We got our house attorney here to make some phone calls down there and say ‘Hey, where is this request, we asked for it,’” Campbell said.

They were told there had been a staff change at the Attorney General’s Office and that the person who had been assigned the project had left before completing it, Stringer said.

“They had to reassign it, so that was kind of the bureaucratic explanation of why it took them so long to do this,” he said.

Determined, Campbell and Stringer resubmitted the inquiry in mid-March, 2018.

When the opinion was released on April 19, it addressed each concern listed by Stringer and Campbell and cited a good number of court cases to support the positions taken by Brnovich. The entire opinion can be read on the Arizona Attorney General’s website.

One of the reasons Stringer and Campbell suggested that the agreement disenfranchises CYFD voters is that voters were not asked to approve the agreement or CAFMA’s creation. To this point, the Attorney General’s Office stated that “Arizona law does not require voters to approve fire districts’ agreement to form a joint operating entity pursuant to A.R.S. § 48-805.01, as the Central Yavapai and Chino Valley fire districts did when they formed CAFMA.”

Another reason Campbell and Stringer thought that voters might be disenfranchised is because there is a theory posed by some area residents that the CYFD taxpayers are “subsidizing the operations of the Chino Valley Fire District through [the] Agreement.”

To this second point, the Attorney General’s Office chose not to express any opinion on whether such a subsidy is, in fact, occurring.

“Even if it is, however, we are not aware of any case holding or even suggesting that such a subsidy amounts to disenfranchisement,” the office stated.

For the most part, Campbell feels like the opinion was enough to settle the matter.

“I don’t have any further plans to look at it anymore,” Campbell said.

Stringer feels likewise.

“I’m satisfied, particularly given the answer, that everything is legal and I have no basis to disagree with that,” Stringer said.

Personnel at CAFMA were not surprised by the Attorney General’s Office’s opinion.

“The attorney general validated what we knew,” CAFMA Fire Chief Scott Freitag said.

“Anyone who reads 48-805.01 can clearly see — because that statute’s written very succinctly — that we do have the express ability under state law to form a fire authority, and we followed the law to the letter.”

Central Yavapai Fire District board members ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele, on the other hand, were disappointed by the opinion.

“I saw the report that was sent [to the Attorney General’s Office] back in May of last year, and I thought it addressed a lot of concerns; but, obviously, I didn’t like the ruling,” Steele said.

Despite the official opinion from the Attorney General’s Office and what independent auditors have said about the question of subsidization of one fire district by the other, Jacobs and Steele still feel that CYFD voters are paying an unfair portion of CAFMA’s bill.

“That’s what Tom and I have been trying to address, the two tax levy differences,” Jacobs said.

Yet, had CYFD and CVFD not agreed to form CAFMA, CYFD’s tax rate would be about 7 cents higher than it currently is, the Courier reported.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at mefrein@prescottaz.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.