After months of debating outsourcing with the City of Tucson or finding room in the budget for South Tucson to keep its own fire department, the council was able to agree on one thing Tuesday night. There isnt room in the budget to commit to a direction at this point.

The fire department was up for discussion on the agenda, so South Tucson Fire Captain Andy Luna presented examples of the work the fire department has done recently. From helping to install smoke alarms to finding answers to safety-related questions, he said hes been proactive in working with businesses and residents to prepare for emergencies.

Theres a business on Fourth Avenue, the owner Elvia has my personal phone number. She calls me and I go over there and help her out with sprinkler systems, Luna shared as an example.

Other firefighters stood in the audience for support as community members shared why they believe the South Tucson Fire Department should continue to serve the city. In light of this and similar sentiments at previous city council meetings, Mayor Paul Diaz proposed a tentative budget of $2 million to staff two full-time firefighters and two reserves for the three shifts. This is also around the same yearly cost that the City of Tucson has estimated to provide services to South Tucson.

Right now, the South Tucson Fire Department has only one full-time firefighter because the city cant afford to pay pension costs. So the fire department is staffed by reserves, who pick up shifts and work part-time for South Tucson.

Public Safety Director Danny Denogean also reported to the council on Tuesday night, sharing that he hired two more reserves, which brings the total number of reserves to 40. But when Mayor Paul Diaz presented his proposal, with plans to continue staffing reserves, it was met with opposition by other council members.

Councilman Cesar Aguirre shared his concerns, including how the $2 million would cover pension costs. With two full-time firefighters for each of the three shifts, this would bring the full-time staff from one to six. Still, Aguirre added this wouldnt combat staffing shortages the city has faced in the past with hiring reserves.

All of those factors are not factors if were going to be outsourcing to the City of Tucson, said Aguirre.

The draft IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) with the City of Tucson includes additional one-time costs of around $2 million dollars. This is an estimated cost of station upgrades, hiring and training new firefighters and paramedics, and the purchase of a new fire truck. According to the draft IGA, these costs are negotiable but could potentially rise.

Those negotiations have been on hold due to a $400,000 shortfall, which some members of the council and staff turned to Pima County for. Pima Countys Board of Supervisors had scheduled to discuss emergency funding for South Tucsons Fire Department on its agenda, but after the item was held for several weeks, it was removed indefinitely on March 19.

A representative of Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz explained, Supervisor Heinz removed that item from the agenda since the stakeholders needed more time to explore possible solutions, so he wanted to allow this process to play out. Bottom line, Supervisor Heinz believes the residents of South Tucson deserve to have reliable emergency services 24/7, just like every other resident of the county. Hes committed to doing his part to bring this about.

With the direction sitting in the councils hands, and no money to consider any options, one of the council members suggested a new approach to the council on Tuesday night.

I would like to propose we create a citizens advisory committee to help us make these decisions, said Councilmember Roxanna Valenzuela.

After discussion of what this would look like, the council voted in favor of creating the committee. They decided it would serve to advise the council of the best options moving forward, including whether it would be worthwhile to add property tax bonds to the ballot for the November 2024 election. Each council member will be choosing a resident to build the committee. They tentatively decided to have this person chosen by Friday, April 5.