By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
Resourcefulness gets you only so far when you are trying to get a rural volunteer fire department up and running. It takes money, too.
Since its founding in November 2020, the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department, led by Larry Vincent, the department’s president, director, and fire chief, has wheeled and dealed its way through donations, corporate grants, t-shirt sales, and fund-raisers to assemble five serviceable fire trucks, protective equipment, air tanks, a compressor and other equipment a fire department needs to protect its volunteers as they protect their community.
And, Vincent said, “We commonly reach into our own pockets and pay for things to bridge the gap.”
A year ago, the department applied for and received a county grant that enabled it to replace leaky firehoses and purchase much-needed equipment.
“By them helping us and giving us money, I'll tell you there are 1,000-plus homes out here that are tickled to death that we now operate,” Vincent said. “Nobody. I mean, nobody, not one person receives one cent of compensation. We all do this volunteer.”
The fire department’s grant came from a countywide program that annually provides nonprofits with the means to enhance ongoing efforts or add new services.
The county currently is taking applications for fiscal year 2022-23, and nonprofits have until April 30 to apply. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors will award the grants in May and distribute funding beginning in July.
Last year, 44 nonprofit organizations applied, and 33 grants were awarded.
“I would anticipate we’ll probably have about the same number as we had last year,” said Tanya Martinez, who facilitates the grants program in the county manager’s office. “We try to help as many nonprofits as we can, considering there are so many different projects out there that benefit all of Pinal County.”
A team of county employees reviews the applications and, using a predetermined set of criteria, scores each application on a scale of zero to 75 and organizes them by district before sending them to county supervisors for review.
A total of $500,000 is budgeted in the county’s general fund, $100,000 for each of the five supervisor districts.
Board chairman Jeffrey McClure said each supervisor reviews the scores and decides which organizations will be funded and for how much.
“It’s really important that we get a clear narrative,” McClure said. “They have to demonstrate the need and clearly define activities and outcomes. Do they have the ability to provide partner funding so they can take this money and build off something else?”
For example, the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department contributed about $2,300 raised through t-shirt sales and personal contributions to combine with its $20,000 grant.
Each commissioner reviews the scores to determine which organizations get how much money.
“You break it down to see to see how you can break it out,” McClure said.
“In some cases, they may be county-wide and affect all five districts,” McClure said. In that case, the supervisors pool some of their district’s allotment to provide a grant.
“I might start off with $1,000 and another supervisor will say, OK I’ll do a thousand and somebody else will add to that. So, they get their fair share of money for their project.”
For the nonprofits that don’t qualify for county grants, other options might be available. “They could go for different federal grants or state grants rather than through the county,” McClure said.
Each recipient must submit quarterly reports detailing how it used the grant. Sometimes, the reports reveal problems that delay spending because of unforeseen obstacles.
“One of the things I gave money to last year was one of the churches in Arizona City for a drinking fountain because they are the de facto park in the area. But they’ve not been able to do it because they were having issues with the water department trying to get it all hooked up,” McClure said.
He made a few calls to help facilitate the project.
“You can let us know what’s happening and we can help you out,” McClure said. “We want the funds to be used. That’s why we’re giving you the funds. We don’t want you to sit on it and then nothing happens with it.”