MEETING CONSENSUS IS LET THE COUNTY TAKE OVER TWENTYNINE PALMS FIRE

MEETING CONSENSUS IS LET THE COUNTY TAKE OVER TWENTYNINE PALMS FIRE

A meeting of involved parties and agencies was held last night to determine the future of fire protection in Twentynine Palms. Reporter Dan Stork was there and said a consensus was reached at the meeting…
Let the County take over fire services. That was the consensus among the members of the Twentynine Palms City Council and Water District Board, at a joint workshop on the subject of the future of the Twentynine Palms Fire Department. Voters recently turned down a ballot measure to extend and increase the tax that funds the department’s operations. After that vote, the Water District resolved its intent to divest itself of responsibility for the Fire Department, but hadn’t chosen a course of action. Chief Mark Hartwig of the San Bernardino County Fire Depart presented two service models – “contract” and “annexation.” Under the “contract model,” the county would absorb stations that are outside city limits, and would contract with the city for operation of the two stations within city boundaries. Under this model, services such as emergency medical services would be constrained to some extent by geographical boundaries, and the county would charge the city a “contract management fee” in the neighborhood of $250,000 per year. Hartwig clearly preferred the “annexation model,” which would give the county full control of how it provides fire services, and he persuaded both sets of officials of its superiority. He projected integrated services, and elimination of duplication of expertise, infrastructure, costs, and administration as benefits of this approach. Hartwig cited Yucca Valley as a role model for how a municipality and the county can cooperate without contracting for services. Hartwig handled questions about the future employment of local firefighters, and the fate of existing assets and the current local fire tax by deferring to firefighter labor organizations and future negotiations among other interested parties. Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, Executive Officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) said that in order for local fire services to be taken over by the county by July 1 of next year, the Water District will have to submit a complete application, including an application fee, by October 1 of this year, at the very latest. She cautioned that there may be many hurdles along the way, including an opportunity for public protest and rejection of the change.

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