The South Tucson City Council got into a heated discussion Tuesday night regarding the future of its fire department, which has been a big issue in the community since November.

South Tucson administration staff are currently working on an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the City of Tucson to pay the Tucson Fire Department to take over, which would mean the city of South Tucson would no longer have its own fire or medical services.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: South Tucson moves forward with negotiations to outsource fire response from TFD

The council had moved forward in previous meetings when discussing the agreement, but that took a turn on Tuesday night. The initial plan for the council was to discuss the matter privately in Executive Session, but Council Member Brian Flagg brought a concern to the council’s attention.

“So we’re going to go into a room and disappear and talk about it? The fire guys have been here, and the public has been here for about an hour or so,” said Flagg. “How do they know what’s going on with the biggest issue in our town?”

After agreeing not to discuss details of the negotiation, the council moved to have an open conversation about the situation. Interim City Manager Veronica Moreno offered to provid an update for the current status of the negotiation.

She started from the beginning, stating part of the issue that’s preventing South Tucson from moving forward is the cost of the agreement. South Tucson council members and staff recently asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors for help in filling the $400,000 shortfall in the budget, which would potentially bring South Tucson into another intergovernmental agreement.

That IGA was to be discussed in a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, but the item was postponed as Tucson and South Tucson continued negotiations.

“They wanted to know what part of this amount is the City of Tucson contributing. So they tabled the item, and the county manager said ‘We will have a meeting with the City of Tucson Manager and the South Tucson manager, that meeting coincidentally happened this [Tuesday] afternoon,” said Moreno.

She shared some of the takeaways of the meeting, including Tucson acknowledging South Tucson as the “brunt” of issues from other cities, the consideration of how Tucson has provided assistance in the past and present, and extending the contract length from five to ten years.

After presenting the summary, one of the three South Tucson firefighters in the audience spoke up. The council allowed him to present his thoughts, which included his appreciation for South Tucson and the reserve program.

Then, Mayor Paul Diaz shared his thoughts on the situation and shared his firm opposition in continuing negotiations with the City of Tucson. He questioned how the City of South Tucson could afford the contract while already in debt.

“It’s good business for the City of Tucson, and if Pima County wants to go ahead and join in with us, when we don’t even have an economic plan,” said Diaz.

He suggested this leading to South Tucson residents having more taxes, but Moreno said this is not true, nor was it part of the plan that was presented to the council. He agreed, but shared his belief in stating they will still end up paying for it somehow.

Council Member Anita Romero shared how she also stands in opposition. “I think that we need the fire department, this is the city of South Tucson,” said Romero. “Why don’t you just give the whole city? All of you leave and retire if you’re going to do that.”

That’s when Council Member Cesar Aguirre stepped in, sharing he understands the emotion that comes with the tough decision. He added how important the pension debt is to consider, and that they’ve discussed how to make it work and haven’t been able to.

Mayor Paul Diaz said he has a plan to be able to keep the South Tucson Fire Department, but the other council members agreed they would like to see something official before further consideration.

The meeting adjourned shortly after. As the discussion continues, residents looking to get involved can attend council meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 6 PM.


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