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Monthly Archives: June 2014
DA Probing Chino City Council Fund Misappropriation Allegations
A retired postal inspector has alleged Chino city officials have engaged in a number of illegal acts and breaches of their fiduciary duty in providing themselves benefits and compensation to which they are not entitled totaling at least $478,000 since the year 2000.
Specifically, Bob Nigg, a 15-year resident of Chino who was formerly employed by the federal government as a postal inspector, maintains that members of the city council with the assistance of senior city staff and the city attorney passed resolutions which conferred upon themselves retirement and allowance benefits that exceeded those permitted by law and which were not the same as benefits made available and paid to the city’s employees, actions which are in violation of California’s Government Code §1222, §36506, §36514.5, §36516, §37206, §1090 and Penal Code §424.
Chino’s official spokeswoman, Michelle Van Der Linden, told the Sentinel, “We have reviewed the allegations raised by Mr. Nigg and are convinced that the city, its employees, and its council members have fully complied with all legal requirements, including the Government Code sections referenced by Mr. Nigg.”
Nigg’s accusations against the city council are contained in a complaint on file with the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit. In addition, Nigg has also requested that the district attorney look into accusations that Chino City Attorney Jimmy Gutierrez violated Government Code Section 1090, which is aimed at prohibiting government officials from engaging in financial conflicts of interest by which they personally benefit, when he acted to negotiate on the city’s behalf the terms of his own employment contract with the city, and in which the city council members also had a financial benefit.
That accusation parallels one made in a lawsuit brought against the city of Chino and Gutierrez by the Inland Oversight Committee, which is represented by attorney Cory Briggs.
According to Van Der Linden, “The city is currently involved in litigation brought by Cory Briggs to challenge the city attorney contract and will reserve further comment until that matter has been resolved. We are confident of a favorable outcome.”
At present, according to documents obtained by the Sentinel, district attorney’s office investigators are examining and assimilating scores of city documents which are alleged to demonstrate how public funds were illegally used to compensate the elected officials of the city of Chino.
Nigg says he became concerned over the transparency and accountability of how public moneys were being spent as a consequence of the public corruption scandal in the city of Bell. As a consequence, he turned his focus to the city of Chino and its officials, discovering what he considered to be excessive salary and benefits paid to the city’s elected leaders.
In the aftermath of the Bell revelations, the California state controller created a database in which information concerning the compensation and benefits paid to California’s governmental employees is posted.
“One of the purposes of the controller’s database is to make available records to the public so that possible illegal compensation to public employees does not go unnoticed as it had in Bell,” Nigg said.
Based upon a review of the controller’s database, Nigg learned that Chino elected officials’ total compensation was significantly higher than that paid to officials in other comparably sized local cities. Upon conducting a further analysis of the issue and making various public records requests to the city of Chino, Nigg uncovered what he believes are numerous violations of California state laws.
“Most of those consist of the method in which the elected officials of Chino are being compensated,” he told the Sentinel. “Unlike Bell, which is a charter city, Chino is a general law city and there are various laws restricting the eligibility and amount of compensation that can be paid to elected official. Under Government Code §36516, there is a maximum amount of salary that can be legally paid to city council members. The Chino City Council enacted several policies, procedures, resolutions or ordinances to circumvent the maximum compensation as allowed by law. By my interpretation, such schemes are illegal.”
Nigg said mayor Dennis Yates and all four of the other council members – Eunice Ulloa, Glenn Duncan, Tom Haughey and Earl Elrod – were implicated in the wrongdoing.
According to Nigg, what he called “the most egregious” illegal compensation scheme relating to Chino consisted of the city council’s adoption of Resolution 2006-051 on June 20, 2006, made retroactive to August 1, 2005.
“This resolution resulted in a health benefit bank compensation paid to the city council members that was not the same benefit available and paid by the city for its employees as mandated under Government Code §36516(e),” Nigg said. “As an example, in 2010 city council members received health benefit bank compensation of approximately $26,629 annually, whereas other city employees received benefit bank compensation of $15,672, a difference of $10,957 annually in what I believe to be excessive and illegal compensation. In my complaint filed with the district attorney’s office, I alleged such payments to be in violation of California Penal Code §424, related to the misappropriation of public monies. My complaint also alleges that in order to circumvent the maximum compensation requirement of the government code, the city council tailored a unique employment contract with the city attorney, which would allow the excessive health payments to also be classified as retirement benefits. Such a unique contract tailored for only the few council members and only one other individual, the city attorney, is also alleged to be a violation of Government Code §1090, as the city council members had a financial interest in the contract with the city attorney. In 2011, after the State Controller required the compensation of the city council to be included in the database made available to the public, the city council took action to reduce the health bank benefits they had voted for themselves to being the same benefit amount as made available and paid to the other employees of Chino.”
Nigg estimated the “total illegal benefits” so derived as “over $270,000 between 2005 and 2011.”
Nigg further alleges that city council voted to approve a “unique and tailored retirement benefit” for councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, who is a full time employee with another public agency, the Chino Basin Water Conservation District, where she receives both health and retirement benefit compensation.
“California retirement law restricts those enrolled in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) to only one retirement plan,” according to Nigg. “To circumvent this legal restriction, the Chino City Council created a unique deferred compensation benefit tailored to benefit only Ulloa in possible violation of § 36516(e). I believe that such a plan resulted in Ulloa being compensation the value of the PERS plan into a separate retirement plan, and no other employee of Chino was bestowed this unique benefit. It is alleged in my complaint to the district attorney that such a benefit would be a violation of Government Code §1090 as a conflict of interest and would also be in violation of Penal Code §424. It is estimated that such alleged misappropriation of public monies could exceed $24,000 since August 1, 2005.”
Moreover, Nigg maintains that members of the city council for thirteen years helped themselves to a perquisite to which they were not entitled in a way that ran afoul of state law.
“Since the year 2000, Chino City Council members have received $1,440 annually in deferred compensation in addition to their salary,” Nigg stated. “Such deferred compensation was never authorized by the passage of a city resolution or ordinance as required under Government Code §36506 and §37206. Such unauthorized payments continued until August 6, 2013, when the city council adopted Resolution 2013-46, authorizing such payment without taking any action to have the city council reimburse the city for the alleged previously unauthorized and illegal payments.”
Nigg’s complaint on the matter, filed with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, alleges that even after the passage of Resolution 2013-46, the deferred compensation payments are still illegal and are in violation of §36516(e) as the same retirement benefit is not made available and paid to the other employees of Chino. In 2000, the annual deferred compensation payment represented over 13 percent of the salary of the city council. Currently, the deferred compensation is calculated to be over 9 percent of their salary. It is alleged that the enactment of Resolution 2013-046 is a violation of Government Code §1090 as a conflict of interest because the deferred compensation benefit was tailored and unique to only the city council members. It is also alleged that a violation of §36516(e) has occurred as the other employees of Chino are not paid the same benefit of deferred compensation of over 9 percent of their salary, in addition to the city paid PERS contributions. It is believed that as a result of such possible violations of state law, the city council could have misappropriated as much as $90,000 of public monies since the year 2000 in violation Penal Code §424.
Nigg has zeroed in on how the city council misapplied the process for obtaining reimbursement for expenses such that they received financial benefits to which they were not legally entitled.
“Based upon abuses to payments made to government officials for official expenses, the state legislature enacted Government Code §36514.5, requiring that city council members can only be reimbursed for actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of official duties, subject to the requirements of §53232.2 and §53232.3 of the same code,” Nigg said. Nigg’s complaint to the district attorney’s office alleges that the Chino City Council in violation of §36514.5 adopted Resolution 2005-093 in December of 2005, resulting in a monthly communication allowance of $100. It is alleged that this $100 monthly allowance is in violation of the reimbursement laws as such a monthly allowance is not for an actual expense. Additionally, it is alleged that prior to 2005, the city council never adopted a resolution or ordinance authorizing the payment of a communication allowance as required under §36506 and §37206. The failure to abide by the reimbursement laws is alleged to have resulted in the misappropriation of public monies in violation of Penal Code §424 that could exceed over $80,000 since the year 2000.
Nigg said that on August 6, 2013, the city council implicitly acknowledged that such communication allowance payments were unlawful and put an end to such compensation by the passage of Resolution 2013-046. However, Nigg points out that the city council never reimbursed the city for the past illegal compensation, and in another move to pad their compensation, the council increased its members’ vehicle allowance by the equal amount of $100 per month.
“The city council is now receiving $500 per month in compensation for a vehicle allowance and has done so without ever presenting any empirical evidence that such a vehicle allowance is reasonable,” Nigg said.
Additionally, Nigg alleges that under IRS regulations, the $500 allowance is considered to be included in the salary of the employee. Nigg points out that under the standards of Government Code §36516, the $500 per month in vehicle allowances should be included in the total salary calculations paid to the city council. Thus, he reasoned, the compensation paid to the Chino City Council exceeds the maximum salary allowed to be paid to city council members. Such payments would also be in violation of the Government Code and are alleged to be in violation of Penal Code §424.
“Government Code §36516 states that for a city with a population the size of Chino the monthly maximum salary of the city council is $600 per month,” Nigg said. “This law also allows for the maximum salary of $600 per month to be increased by up to no more than 5 percent per year since the last increase. The Chino City Council has showed a pattern of normally voting itself the maximum 5 percent per year, and the current salary of the city council members is $1,281 monthly or $15,372 annually.”
Even though the city council is allowed the 5 percent per year increase as permitted by §36516(a)(4), the city council salary had been illegal compounded, Nigg insists.
“The California State Attorney General in issuing Opinion Letter #06-504 made clear that the 5 percent salary increases should not be compounded,” Nigg said. “Since at least the year 2000, the city of Chino has unlawfully compounded the salary increases of the city council, which would not be permitted under §36516. Such alleged illegal compounding was brought to the attention of the city manager and the city council in late 2012. Chino officials took no known action to correct the improper payment or to have the city council reimburse the city for the improper payments. It is alleged that such payments would be in violation of Penal Code §424 and could exceed $14,000 in unlawful compensation since the year 2000.”
Nigg’s complaint also alleges a violation of Government Code §1222 has occurred as the public officers of Chino have willfully failed to perform their duties as enjoined by law.
Nigg said he was aware of current civil litigation in the San Bernardino County Superior Court, including Case No. CIVDS 1314931. Attorney Corey Briggs had alleged city attorney Jimmy Gutierrez acted improperly when he negotiated the terms of his law firm’s contract with the city. Nigg alleges the contract not only contained a conflict of interest because the city attorney negotiated his own level of remuneration, but the contract created a financial conflict of interest for the elected officials of Chino whereby they were able to increase their compensation as elected officials paid in retirement benefits and that these retirement benefits were not made available and paid to the other employees of Chino as required by law. “I believe the contract between the city attorney and the city was tailored and contained a unique benefit in which only the city attorney and the elected officials received the additional compensation,” Nigg stated.
In the demurrer to the lawsuit brought by Briggs on behalf of the Inland Oversight Committee relating to Gutierrez negotiating his employment contract, the attorneys representing Gutierrez, his law firm and the city of Chino, Stephen Larson and Jonathan Phillips of the Los Angeles-based law firm Arent Fox, maintained no crime of any sort had been committed and that the lawsuit seeks to apply an impossibly impractical standard to the conducting of the city’s business.
“Plaintiff The Inland Oversight Committee has brought a meritless and untimely claim for an alleged violation of Government Code Section 1090. Despite a complete lack of legal or evidentiary support, plaintiff contends that defendants Gutierrez, Fierro & Erickson, a professional corporation, and its individual attorneys, Jimmy L. Gutierrez, Arturo N. Fierro, and James E. Erickson violated Section 1090 when they entered into an amended contract to continue serving as city attorney for real party in interest the city of Chino,” the demurrer states. “In filing this frivolous complaint, plaintiff ignores the fact that California law permits government employees to negotiate the terms of their own employment, and fails to recognize the absurd real-world consequences that would otherwise result.”
Nigg acknowledged that in terms of scale and monetary totals, the scandal that engulfed Bell was more egregious than the action involving Chino officials. Nevertheless, he said, he believed Chino officials had acted contrary to the interests of those who had entrusted them with the authority they are wielding and that they had violated the law.
“This may not be as big as what happened in Bell, but the same principle is involved,” Nigg said. “They abused their positions of trust.”
Nigg, who obtained documentation relating to the crimes he is alleging through a several-month long series of public records requests, has turned that documentation over to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit. He called upon the district attorney’s office to pursue criminal charges against all five members of the city council rather than merely seeking restitution and allowing them to remain in office.
“I believe the acts they engaged in are violations of the official duties of the Chino officials,” Nigg said. “Under California laws, including Government Code §1770(h), if convicted in a court of law for the alleged criminal violations, the law would require their removal from office as their positions become vacated.”
SB & CalPERS Come To An Agreement
San Bernardino and the state of California’s public employee retirement system have apparently staved off a potentially earth-scorching battle over the city’s arrearages on pension payments that threatened to undermine the city’s 2012 bankruptcy filing and also threatened to set a precedent by which financially troubled cities might skip out on their obligations in a way that would undercut the pension system’s integrity.
After years of financial challenges, San Bernardino filed a Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition in August 2012. In its filing, the county seat asserted it had $180 million in ongoing unfunded liabilities and a $49 million annual operating deficit. Shortly thereafter, the state’s public employees retirement system, known by its acronym CalPERS, contested the city’s filing, maintaining San Bernardino has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets it could liquidate to make good on its responsibility to its creditors.
CalPERS is San Bernardino’s largest creditor. The city currently has a $26 million annual obligation to the retirement system and it withheld more than $14 million in pension fund payments from July 2012 until July of 2013 and has continued to underpay CalPERS the amount the system’s administrators maintain is continuously due it. The city has offered to make partial payments into the system until such time as it gets back on its feet financially. Even more alarming to CalPERS was the city’s effort to forge a long-term solution that includes renegotiating the amount of its commitment to the retirement system altogether.
CalPERS deemed such an eventuality unacceptable, as it would set a precedent in California of allowing municipalities in financial straits to stiff the pension system. Moreover, the reduction of the pensions of retired or soon-to-retire employees in cities seeking to dodge their commitments to the system could severely undercut the faith of the state’s public employees in the system, a crisis of confidence that could lead to the system’s demise.
In addition to opposing San Bernardino’s bankruptcy petition outright, CalPERS asserted that the pension fund system has a special status among the city’s creditors and that it should go to the front of the line when the city begins to pay those to whom it is in arrears. The federal bankruptcy judge overseeing San Bernardino’s bankruptcy filing, Judge Meredith Jury, did not accept that, ruling that CalPERS has no greater or lesser standing than the scores of other entities the city owes money to.
Moreover, Jury consistently ruled that San Bernardino is as insolvent as it claims. In August 2013, she ruled that the city’s bankruptcy should be granted pursuant to a pendency plan by which the city continues to pay its employees and other expenses critical to its day-to-day operations but services its other debts on the basis of the limited financial means available to it.
CalPERS wanted out of Jury’s courtroom and previously pressed for leave to appeal the matter to another judge, a request Jury denied.
CalPERS took a writ to U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where Judge Dolly Gee granted the pension fund’s request to appeal Jury’s findings directly to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s request to have the 9th Circuit here the case was pending, further efforts at mediation between the city of San Bernardino and CalPERS continued under the guidance of a court-appointed mediator, Judge Gregg Zive.
The mediation between the city and CalPERS was not the only touchy issue that grew out of the bankruptcy. The city is also involved in delicate negotiations with creditors, bondholders, service providers and vendors, as well as city employee bargaining groups.
In May, Jury expressed dismay at the lack of progress in the mediation talks and said the delay in coming to a workable arrangement with CalPERS was preventing the city from coming to terms with the both its police and fire unions, which have disputes with the city over the declining revenue available for public safety employee salaries.
Last week came word that the attorneys for the city and CalPERS have arrived at some form of tentative agreement that will allow the city’s bankruptcy reorganization plan to proceed, though the terms remain secret.
A terse case status update noted that the terms of the agreement were in Zive’s possession, and an early draft of the agreement had been provided to attorneys for the city’s employee unions and the legal representatives of the city’s other creditors. That document was subject to the confidentiality restrictions imposed by Jury with regard to the mediation effort, such that no public disclosure of any of the agreement’s particulars has been made.
A court filing, however, confirmed that tentative agreement, to which the city and CalPERS are amenable, has been forged.
“The details of the agreement, including the timing and amount of payments to be made, will remain confidential as the mediation regarding a potential plan of adjustment is ongoing,” the filing states. The filing further indicates CalPERS for the time will hold in abeyance its appeal of Jury’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court in which it asserts the city isn’t eligible for bankruptcy.
In return, the city is to “make certain payments to CalPERS on deferred amounts owing.” The precise amounts the city will pay has not been disclosed. CalPERS maintains the city is at least $16.5 million behind on its payments since July 2012, and owes interest on that arrearage. San Bernardino, in its pendency plan, announced its intention to eventually make CalPERS whole, but has not provided a schedule for doing so.
Because of the confidentiality surrounding the tentative agreement and its precise terms, it is not publicly known whether the break CalPERS has assented to cutting San Bernardino on the money owed it is temporary or permanent, or whether it includes interest payments on the overdue payments or not.
Disclosure of those terms might be counter to CalPERS’ interest, since other large California cities, such as Stockton and Vallejo have declared bankruptcy and other California cities are contemplating such a move. Those cities might seek terms relating to long term debt repayment similar to those CalPERS agrees to with San Bernardino.
The ongoing negotiations between the city and its two most powerful employee unions, those for the fire department and the police department, have been nearly as tense as those with CalPERS.
The San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters have charged that the city has not been negotiating in good faith, and has been less than straightforward in disclosing the city’s actual financial condition. For example, according to the firefighters union, between June 2012, just prior to the city’s bankruptcy filing, and December 2013, the city invested $53 million in notes and federal agency-issued coupons, certificates of deposit, local agency investment funds and other securities. Moreover, according to the firefighters’ union, the city made another $23 million in investments during the first four months of 2014.
City negotiations with the firefighters union on its memorandum of understanding setting salaries and benefits for firefighters are ongoing.
Previously, the city and the San Bernardino Police Officers Association were at loggerheads. But recently, negotiators for the city and the police union have indicated they are within striking distance of closing an agreement on the memorandum of understanding relating to police pay and benefits.
The city is scheduled to come before Jury for an update on its progress toward exiting from bankruptcy protection on July 10.
Yucca Valley Inching Toward Commercializing & Industrializing Residential Zones
(June 24) The town of Yucca Valley this week took a major stride toward the liberalization of its land use policy, with the planning commission making a recommendation that the city council alter its development code to allow greater latitude with regard to the type and nature of home-based businesses that can locate in the town’s residential zones.
Challenges made by some city residents of businesses run out of single family residences in several of the town’s neighborhoods, including at least one that involved a lawsuit, resulted in the town revisiting the issue of home occupation permit regulations earlier this year. In some of those cases, complainants referenced violations of the town code that had been ongoing for several years.
The operators of those businesses and their supporters, including nearby residents who signed letters or petitions saying they had no objection to industrial or quasi-industrial uses in the midst of their residential neighborhoods, petitioned city officials to amend the town code, in particular Development Code Section 84 with regard to home-based businesses.
There has been some degree of back-and-forth between two differing factions in town – those advocating strict enforcement of the town code to prevent commercial or manufacturing operations in residential areas and others maintaining that commercial and light industrial activities should be deemed acceptable within the town’s rural neighborhoods.
The planning commission on June 24 made a non-binding recommendation that the city council adopt the newly drafted ordinance, which would repeal Development Code Section 84.0615 of the Town Code and amend Title 9 by adding a section and a chapter to the Yucca Valley Development Code.
The ordinance changes the language in the code from a reference to home-based business to home occupation operations. It contains language which states that such activities should “not alter the character of any residential neighborhood, or create impacts or activities that are not typically and commonly associated with residential neighborhoods. It is the intent of this section to allow for commercial uses that are accessory and incidental to the primary purpose of residential zones homes, which is that of providing a habitable dwelling for the owner or occupant as the primary use of the residential dwelling unit.”
The ordinance would yet prohibit home occupations that entailed “animal hospitals; automotive and other vehicle repair, upholstery painting or storage; junk yards; medical and dental offices, clinics and laboratories; mini-storage; storage of equipment, materials and other accessories to the construction trades; welding and machining; cabinet shop[s]; uses which may include the storage or use of explosives or high combustible or toxic materials; sales of ammunition; [and] massage establishments.” The ordinance also disallows sales of firearms in residential zoning districts other than those designated as Rural Living or Hillside Reserve.
Planning commission chairman Tim Humphreville lobbied his colleagues to allow the sale of firearms in all residential zones. That request was not endorsed by the full commission, however.
The ordinance identifies four classes of home occupation operations that are permitted.
Class I are those that “shall have no impact on the neighborhood in which they are located” and would include “telecommuting and internet or electronic based business or other similar activities that are transparent inside the residential structure and do not involve customers to the site, employees, or any structural alteration.” According to the proposed ordinance, “no permit is required for home based businesses where no business activity takes place other than the scheduling of appointments or paper work, there are no customers received at the residence, the exterior of the property is not modified for the business and there is no outdoor storage of materials or vehicles. Operating hours on these Class 1 businesses are limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
Class II home occupations, according to the ordinance, “may have a limited impact on the neighborhood in which they are located. Class II home occupations shall be allowed in the Residential Single Family, Rural Living and Rural Hillside Reserve zoning districts. Class II home occupations are subject to a field investigation by city staff and may be permitted without notice or a hearing, although the town director of development has the option of scheduling a hearing before the planning commission to establish special conditions of approval. Class II home occupations can feature sales of products on the premises, a maximum three customers or clients per day, one employee who is not a resident of the premises, and can operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but cannot receive customers before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. No business activity is to take place at a Class II operation outside the home.
Class III home occupations are those categorized as having “a limited impact on the neighborhood in which they are located but are also slightly more intense than Class II in that they may involve outdoor storage of material and or outdoor home occupation activities that do not impact the neighborhood. Class III operations are permitted in the Rural Living and Rural Hillside Reserve zoning districts and are subject to notice and hearing for the issuance of a permit. The planning commission is the review authority and can forward the application to the council for consideration. Class III businesses can have sales of products on the premises. Customer may visit Class III operations only by appointment, one appointment at a time. The monthly average of the total trip count for business activity shall not exceed 12 trips per day in all zoning districts. Class III businesses can employ up to two workers who do not live on the premises. Operation is limited to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., with customers restricted to the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Class III home occupation operations located on lots one acre or larger are permitted to have outside business activity or screened outdoor storage of materials.
Class IV home occupations, according to the proposed ordinance, “may exceed the standards provided in classes I, II, and III, subject to the review and approval of a conditional use permit by the planning commission. No alteration of the home in which a Class IV operation is taking place can be made, according to the proposed ordinance, “in such a manner as to change the residential character and appearance of the dwelling, or in such a manner as to cause the structure to be recognized as a place where a home occupation is conducted.” No limitation is specified in the proposed ordinance as to the number of employees not residing on the premises who may work in a Class IV home occupation setting. No displays, sales, or advertising signs are permitted on the premises other than “one unlighted identification sign containing the name and address of the owner attached to the building not exceeding two square feet in area per street frontage.”
The commission recommended that the home occupation permits, which currently must be renewed annually, be deemed operative for three years. The commission also recommended that any recently granted home occupation permits which contained previous conditions of approval be updated with the new conditions.
$2.6 M Budget Deficit Seen As Adelanto Bankruptcy Herald
(June 26) ADELANTO— Bankruptcy still looms as a prospect for the city of Adelanto as the city council this week ratified a 2014-15 general fund budget replete with a $2.61 million deficit.
According to city manager Jim Hart, the city anticipates taking in $10,564,589 in revenues to infuse the general fund over the next 12 months and anticipates expenditures of $13,206,499 out of the general fund in the same span.
Last year at this time, Adelanto declared a fiscal emergency just as fiscal year 2013-14 was about to begin. Total revenues though all of the city’s funds – the general fund, special revenue funds, enterprise funds, non-profit funds and agency and trust funds will come to $30,196,210 in 2014-15. Spending from all of those funds is anticipated to be $35,003,531, a deficit of more than $4.8 million.
City officials, including Hart and members of the city council, offered a dire warning that having the city file for bankruptcy protection is in the cards if a majority of the city’s residents do not vote in favor of a utility tax measure the city has placed on the ballot in the upcoming November election.
Hart said he has pared spending on programs to the bone and has nowhere else to realistically cut. The city’s largest general fund expense is its contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement, one which runs $4,970,997 annually. The next largest budget expenditure is the other prong of the city’s public safety function, the county fire department, which will eat up $2,467,369 in fiscal 2015-15.
The city’s payroll for non-safety employees is $2.5 million.
Hart said the city is woefully behind most other cities in the county in terms of tax revenue. The city anticipates $4.6 million in tax revenues in 2014-15, which is approximately 35 percent of its budget. The average tax revenue percentage for other cities in the county is 67 percent.
Two years ago, San Bernardino, the county seat and the largest city in San Bernardino County, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.
Adelanto’s leaders are casting about for ways to keep the city of 27,139 afloat financially and avoid becoming the second city in the county to declare bankruptcy.
City officials are relentlessly plugging the utility tax, one that as currently proposed would entail a surcharge of 5.95 percent to 7.95 percent on residential and business utility bills. If passed, the tax would entail an estimated $20 per month per household increase on utility bills.
A phone poll of a cross section of city residents carried out several months ago indicated that the chances of the tax’s passage were marginal, at best. The perception that city employees are living high on the hog has made many city residents reluctant to impose upon themselves higher utility costs to benefit the city. A recurrent theme in residents’ comments is resentment at Hart’s $280,000 compensation package, one some consider excessive for a manager of a city of less than 30,000 population.
In May, the city put itself into position to seamlessly make the bankruptcy filing if push comes to shove when it hired Orange-based Urban Futures, Inc. as a consultant to deal with its burgeoning fiscal crisis.
Urban Futures guided the city of Stockton with regard to its bankruptcy filing. Though many read the arrangement with Urban Futures as a confirmation the city will pursue a Chapter 9 filing, city officials sought to suggest that the retention of Urban Futures, at an initial cost of $30,000, was a ploy to avoid bankruptcy.
County Challenges Jail Abuse Lawsuit By Claiming Inmates Filed No Grievances
The success of a federal lawsuit alleging San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies abused and tortured inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga could hinge on a court’s determination of whether that abuse and threats of further abuse prevented the defendants from reporting their ordeals to sheriff’s department higher-ups.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Stan Hodge, Jim Terrell and Sharon Bruner on behalf of inmates John Hanson, Lamar Graves, Brandon Schilling, Michael Mesa, Christopher Sly and Eddie Caldera allege they were physically and psychologically tortured by deputies from January 1, 2013 through March of this year. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were submitted to abuse and torture that included being shocked with Taser guns, having shotguns held to their heads, being rectally invaded during unreasonably aggressive pat down searches, and having their arms pulled up behind their backs while handcuffed.
Three deputies were fired by the sheriff’s department in March, shortly after the FBI began a probe of abuse of prisoners in the county’s jails.
In mounting a defense to the case, the county has so far not sought to deny that the prisoners were accorded the harsh treatment alleged in the lawsuit but is initially pinning its hopes on having the lawsuit dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to them before filing the lawsuit.
In this way, the county has cited the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a U.S. federal law enacted by Congress in 1996 in response to an increase in prisoner litigation in the federal courts and which was intended to decrease the incidence of what was deemed “frivolous” litigation relating to the treatment of inmates. Among the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act aimed at curbing prison litigation was an “exhaustion” requirement. Before prisoners may challenge a condition of their confinement in federal court, the act requires them to first exhaust available administrative remedies by pursuing to completion whatever inmate grievance and/or appeal procedures their prison custodians provide.
Attorneys for the defendants have made a filing with the court requesting that attorneys for the plaintiffs clarify, through an amendment to the federal complaint, on how it was that the inmates exhausted all their “administrative remedies” prior to filing the lawsuit.
It appears, however, that Hodge, Terrell and Bruner anticipated the defense move. They agreed to modify the original complaint.
More than a week before defense attorneys filed their motion, there were press accounts, which seemingly emanated from the plaintiff’s camp that dealt with severe challenges inmates at the county’s jails are faced with in seeking to utilize the administrative process to lodge complaints or file grievances.
According to not only the plaintiffs but other inmates at the jail uninvolved in the litigation, deputies working at the jails are extremely resistant to facilitating the grievance process and have on certain occasions simply refused to provide inmates with grievance forms or used intimidation in an effort to dissuade prisoners from filing complaints.
Hodge is a former Superior Court judge. Along with Terrell and Bruner, he is now seeking to document, to the extent possible, that their clients, and by extension others, faced an unreasonable and even illegal burden in exhausting their administrative remedies.
Once the amended complaint is filed, the county’s attorneys will have until July 11 to respond to it. The Sentinel has learned that the county is already seeking to obtain information, from both deputies who have served as guards at the county’s jails and from inmates, to rebut assertions that inmates faced an uphill battle in lodging complaints about their treatment at the hands of their captors.
That rebuttal will need to extend beyond events occurring at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where all of the mistreatment alleged in the federal lawsuit was alleged to have occurred. Inmates housed at the county’s central jail in San Bernardino and at the recently opened High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto have come forward to corroborate what the plaintiffs have alleged about being unable to bring the action of lower ranking deputies to the attention of their supervisors at the West Valley Detention Facility in Rancho Cucamonga.
One way the county hopes to show that avenues of communication with senior jail administrators were open is to cite, and produce, grievances filed by other inmates.
Despite the county’s current efforts to vindicate the actions of sheriff’s department jailors, action that was already taken by the sheriff’s department has implicated several of the lowest ranking members of the department in abuse of prisoners of the type alleged in the lawsuit.
In March, three deputies – Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz, and Nicholas Oakley, each of whom had been with the sheriff’s department for less than a year, were ignominiously fired.
The lawsuit brought by Hanson, Graves, Schilling, Mesa, Sly and Caldera names Teyechea, Cruz and Oakley. It also names deputies Robert Escamilla, Robert Morris, Russell Kopasz, Daniel Stryffeler and Eric Smale, and civilian custody specialist Brandon Stockman, all of whom remain with the department.
The deputies’ two supervisors up the chain of command, captain Jeff Rose and sheriff John McMahon, are also named in the lawsuit. The Sentinel was unable to confirm a report that efforts are ongoing to have Teyechea, Cruz and Oakley “go quietly,” i.e., accept the loss of their employment and accede to likely eventual criminal convictions for their action that will grow out of the FBI probe and U.S. Attorney’s Office’s action without implicating any of their former colleagues or supervisors in the sheriff’s office, thus allowing the county to represent the inmate abuse issue as an isolated one that was quickly and responsibly redressed, alleviating the county from the imposition of punitive damages as a result of the lawsuit.
Criminal charges of deputies determined to have been involved in the mistreatment of inmates is a given, a former sheriff’s deputy told the Sentinel. “It may take a while, but it’s coming,” the 15-year sheriff’s department veteran said. “Just like it happened with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department when the FBI got involved with what is happening in the jails there.”
The combination of the lawsuit and the FBI involvement in the case has created a perilous circumstance for the officers alleged to have been involved in the abuse and the sheriff’s department as well as the county and its taxpayers. One element of that peril is the obliteration of the Garrity protection law enforcement officers normally have during a probe by their department into any wrongdoing they are suspected of having engaged in while in uniform. When being questioned by their own department’s investigators or internal affairs officers about their action, they are normally given the same Miranda Rights warning as citizens being arrested. If the officers then do not waive their Miranda Rights and continue to maintain their silence during questioning, they are issued an order compelling them to give a statement or otherwise face discipline or discharge. Garrity Rights provide a law enforcement officer with a guarantee that those statements he/she makes under the threat of discipline or discharge will not be used in the criminal prosecution of the officer.
Because the FBI is doing the questioning, however, the Garrity protection does not apply. It is illegal to lie to an FBI agent. Though statements made to the FBI are initially kept confidential to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation, at some point a transcript of the interview will become available to attorneys for use in the civil proceedings.
Morongo Unified Puts Superintendent On Paid Administrative Leave
(June 24) TWENTYNINE PALMS — The Morongo Unified School District Board of Trustees abruptly placed superintendent Cecelia English on paid administrative leave on June 21.
That move came almost a month after the board balked at giving English a 5.77 percent raise over her $175,000 annual salary, while conferring the same 5.77 percent raise on the district’s three assistant superintendents, Doug Weller, Tom Baumgarten and David Price.
English’s one-year tenure with Morongo Unified was rocky from the outset. The director of academics at the Newark School District in Northern California, English was hired on a 3-2 vote of the board of trustees in June 2013, with trustees Karalee Hargrove and Ronald Palmer in opposition.
English possesses a doctorate in education and seemed intent upon leading the district forward in the aftermath of Jim Majchrzak’s departure as superintendent. Majchrzak remained with the district for the last six months of 201 as a special assignment administrator applying for grants.
Elements of the community, including Hargrove, Palmer and some members of the Morongo Teachers Association, were critical of the salary provided to English, which was $25,000 more than Majchrzak received and a substantial raise over what English was making in the Newark School District.
English did not hit it off with Morongo Teachers Association President Terri Weitz and her relations with the Morongo Teachers Association never warmed.
With the dawning of 2014, things grew decidedly worse. At a board meeting in March, with emotions running high over teacher compensation, approaching 200 members of the Morongo Teachers Association turned their backs on her as a show of contempt and protest while she was speaking.
In the face of concerted and vigorous opposition by members of the public and a group of teachers, the school board appeared intimidated out of providing to English the same raise as was given to Weller, Baumgarten and Price.
In a special closed session held on Saturday, English was suspended. No reason for the board’s action was given.
Glimpse OF SBC’S Past: Hinkley’s Doomed Hidden River
By Ruth Musser-Lopez
June 27, 2014. If you want to see a “glimpse” of Hinkley before it is too late, you should go at once to see what was once “a boomtown,” now just a “doomed town.”
Near Hidden River Road and Highway 58, Pacific, Gas & Electric’s (PG&E’s) bulldozer crews are currently hard at work tearing down farmhouses and dairies that once sat above Hinkley’s trophy “hidden river” now a polluted giant toilet of ever spreading underground hexavalent chromium waste contamination.
The epitome of corporate water heists, PG&E’s “take” of the Hinkley aquifer and now much of the property that sits above it, was unconventional, but effective. Though it may have been unplanned…it was still a water heist.
First they polluted the water, then by indirect action they polluted the people…many got sick, some have died, and most simply up and left—either bought out by PG&E or simply in hopeless abandonment.
The Hinkley hexavalent chromium contamination came about as a consequence of Pacific Gas and Electric’s operation of a compressor station there beginning in 1952. The compressor station was a facility located on a pipeline that ran between Texas and Canada and delivered in excess of three billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The compressor station in Hinkley was one of eight such stations along the line in California. Natural gas available in the line was used to fuel compressors which repressurized the gas to push it through the pipeline. At Hinkley, the compressed gas was cooled with water circulating through two cooling towers. From 1952 until 1966, hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, was added to the cooling water to prevent corrosion to the cooling towers and the water circulation system. Wastewater from the cooling system was disposed of in unlined ponds at the Hinkley site. Beginning in 1964, after the danger of chromium 6 was recognized, the cooling water was treated to remove the chromium before it was disposed in the pools and a non-chromium-based additive was substituted into the cooling system in 1966. As of 1972 the cooling water was pumped into lined evaporation ponds.
These improvements to the system, however, did not undo the ecological havoc that had occurred up until 1972.
In 1988, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees water quality issues in that portion of the desert, issued a cleanup and abatement order to PG&E to investigate a plume of chromium 6 in the water table. In 1991, the water board issued permits to treat the contaminated groundwater using land treatment units.
In 1993, attorney Ed Masry, with whom Erin Brockovich, a Hinkley resident, was working, filed a multi-plaintiff direct action suit against PG&E, alleging contamination of the town’s drinking water and untoward consequences of that pollution. In 1996, the case was settled for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit until that time. In 2000, the matter became an international cause célèbre, with the release of the blockbuster movie Erin Brockovich, which related a substantially accurate version of events in Hinkley. Contrary to widespread public assumptions, Pacific Gas & Electric’s payment of the $333 million did not redress the underlying problem. Masry and his law firm netted over $100 million in legal fees. Only a few of the plaintiffs received more than $100,000. No physical solution to the contamination problem was effectuated.
In 1997 and 2004, the water board reissued follow-up permits to PG&E for the use of land treatment units in the treatment of the contaminated groundwater around Hinkley. In 2006, with the Hinkley groundwater contamination issue fading from public consciousness, the water board gave permits for two subterranean remediation systems to clean up the source and central areas of the plume. In 2008, however, the issue was resurrected as one of regional and local concern when, amidst the water board’s provision of a permit for Pacific Gas & Electric to apply additional cleanup measures, it issued redrafted cleanup and abatement orders. Steadily over the last six years, the condition of the lingering contamination in Hinkley has grown into a larger and larger public issue as evidence of how the underground plume of chromium 6 continues to migrate through the water table into the area from which local wells draw water used for household purposes has emerged.
The best hydrological data now available indicates the plume is more than six miles long and two miles wide and gradually expanding.
Chromium is the 21st most abundant element in the earth’s crust and as such naturally occurs in rocks, soil, ground water and plants.
Under current guidelines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specifies 100 micrograms per liter as the maximum acceptable total chromium contaminant level acceptable in water to be consumed by humans. On July 1, the state of California will reduce the permissible amount of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium to 10 parts per billion.
Pacific Gas and Electric has been wrestling with the contamination issue and has applied a number of experimental cures to the problem which have proven inadequate, including pumping groundwater through a subsurface drip irrigation system and organic matter in the soil around plant root zones to create conditions, which Pacific Gas & Electric hoped would “chemically reduce the level of chromium 6 in the water [reducing] the hexavalent chromium to insoluble trivalent chromium.” Pacific Gas & Electric sought ways of keeping the contaminated water from migrating to other areas of the aquifer and tainting the water there. One effort Pacific Gas & Electric made to prevent the spreading of the plume entailed drawing up to 80 gallons of water per minute from supply wells south of the compression station, pumping it north through new underground pipes and injecting the water outside the northwestern plume boundary. This strategy, Pacific Gas and Electric claimed, was intended to “create a hydraulic barrier designed to prevent spreading of the plume.” While partially effective, that measure did not achieve the goal of reducing the chromium 6 in the water supply to an acceptable level.
As a practical means of ensuring that the tainted water does not end up in the drinking glasses, cooking utensils, showers, baths, toilets and garden hoses of Hinkley residents, PG&E offered to provide every household and business in Hinkley with either a filtration/treatment system to capture the chromium before it would be dispensed at the tap or in the alternative, commercial bottled drinking water.
But with no certain, final and comprehensive cure of the problem in sight, Pacific Gas & Electric in April 2012 began surveying homeowners with regard to their willingness to sell their property and move elsewhere. When roughly two-thirds of those surveyed indicated their readiness to depart the community, PG&E began making offers to individual property owners and undertook appraisals of their properties. As soon as mutually acceptable terms between PG&E and the individual homeowners were arrived at, purchases were made. Since February, houses in Hinkley are being sold to PG&E at a rate of two to four per week. Once the houses are empty, Pacific Gas & Electric has not spared time in having those homes razed, foreclosing any possibility that squatters or anyone else will be tempted to take up residence therein ever again.
In September 2013, the Santa Ana-based law firm Callahan & Blaine filed suit against PG&E in San Bernardino County Superior Court on behalf of a substantial number of Hinkley residents who were not a part of the litigation brought by Masry. Callahan & Blaine are seeking that the plaintiffs be recompensed for the damages they have sustained as a consequence of the continuing contamination and the ongoing expansion of the toxic plume and its threat to the area’s groundwater.
Of issue is that PG&E, in offering “fair market value” for the properties, is benefiting by its deliberate efforts to convert Hinkley to a ghost town. Under various theories, PG&E should be required to pay more for the homes than they are currently offering, since the company is responsible for the depression in Hinkley’s land values. In early 2012, Hinkley’s population stood at 1,900. Today it has dwindled to an estimated 1,300, as residents continue their exodus. Earlier this year, the Barstow Unified School District moved to shutter Hinkley School at the end of the 2012-13 school year last month. The town is down to one market, a post office and a tavern.
Now, by court order or in an effort to avoid further court orders, PG&E in a process of buying out property owners and systematically destroying dwellings and other structures that will forever be no more. Yes, our State of California Department of Water Resources and the Department of Toxic Substances Control has seen fit over the last 20 years to allow PG&E to monitor its own clean up measures. Instead of seizing the property and taking over clean up as the public has repeatedly prayed for as relief, the State has instead acquiesced to corporate influence.
How twisted would it be that just as PG&E has completed the purchase and leveling of Hinkley that suddenly a solution to the chromium 6 pollution problem is found.
Though with “The Destruction of Hinkley” it would seem that the county of San Bernardino and the State of California would have suffered significant losses with a local economy that appears to have entirely collapsed, we have yet to see or hear of any action by our state or county officials for compensation from PG&E for lost revenue in the form of income tax, sales tax, property tax and lost federal funds for public facilities such as schools, post offices, etc.
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County Fire Department’s Bid May End AMR’s 33-Year Ambulance Monopoly
(June 18) A confluence of events and circumstances has put the status quo of one of San Bernardino County’s major franchise contracts in doubt, as county officials contemplate ending the 33-year-long hold one company has had on the exclusive provision of ambulance service in the nation’s most expansive county.
Since 1981 American Medical Response, and its several corporate predecessors including Mercy Ambulance, has been the county’s ambulance service provider. Its current ten-year contract is coming to an end. County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux and the board of supervisors have not yet decided on whether to simply extend the contract as it is and continue to lock out all other competitors in the 20,105-square mile county, renegotiate the franchise contract or put the contract up for bid.
The board of supervisors, per se, will not be making that decision, but will need to ratify it after the board’s members, acting in another capacity, pass judgment. In actuality, major policy decisions with regard to the county’s emergency medical services are made by ICEMA, of which all five supervisors are board members. ICEMA is an acronym for the Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency, which serves Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties.
A myriad of factors is militating against American Medical Response retaining its exclusive – and very lucrative – status as the sole licensed ambulance provider in the vast unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County and in Inyo and Mono counties as well.
Known by its acronym AMR, American Medical Response has proven over the last three decades to be a major donor to the political war chests of members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. AMR’s primacy in the jurisdiction the supervisors rule has led to the perception that a pay-to-play ethos dominates San Bernardino County. A series of scandals and political corruption prosecutions aimed at San Bernardino County politicians, including ones that resulted in convictions, have incentivized rebidding the franchise contract to end the unseemly appearance of a single, and politically well-connected, company enjoying a monopoly that has moved into its fourth decade.
Simultaneously, the county fire department finds itself faced with both challenges and opportunities to meet those challenges by, perhaps, flexing and expanding its authority and service capability into the areas previously dominated if not entirely controlled by the private sector, namely emergency medical support.
Last year, the cities of Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley and Adelanto resurrected a more-than-20-year-old proposal to unify their police and fire services and the four municipalities sprung for putting up $200,000 collectively to determine the feasibility of creating unified police and fire services under the aegis of a public safety joint powers authority involving all four municipalities.
For law enforcement service, Adelanto pays the county $4,706,459 to have the sheriff’s department serve as its police department, which features 28 sworn and non-sworn employees. Apple Valley is now paying $11.255 million to have the county sheriff provide a 71-employee presence of both sworn and non-sworn personnel, vehicles, equipment radio and dispatch. Hesperia pays $12.77 million for the sheriff’s department to serve as that city’s law enforcement provider. In Victorville, the city is paying $19,417,318 annually to the sheriff’s department under its contract with them to provide law enforcement services.
Under its contract with the San Bernardino County Fire Department, Adelanto pays $3,117,634 per year for a force that consists of one battalion chief, six fire captains, six engineers, six firefighter/paramedics and one paid call firefighter.
The Apple Valley Fire Protection District is an entity that is independent from the town and currently functions on an annual budget of $7.72 million.
Hesperia expends $8,253,243 annually on fire protection service, including a contract with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and maintaining the vehicles and facilities of the Hesperia Fire Protection District.
Victorville’s budget for its fire department, which is also a division of the county fire department, is $13,643,541.
The study was undertaken to determine if the cities could save money and perhaps enhance services by pooling their financial resources and creating a valleywide public safety district with police and fire divisions, and terminating their contracts with the fire and sheriff’s departments of San Bernardino County.
Depending on what conclusions the decision-makers in Adelanto, Apple Valley, Hesperia and Victorville come to, San Bernardino County’s sheriff’s and fire departments may or may not retain their current contracts in the Victor Valley. Thus, the county fire department faces the potential prospect of seeing its contract with three of the county’s cities being terminated.
In the meantime, sources have told the Sentinel, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig is on the verge of making an energetic proposal that would intensify the level of service his agency provides while simultaneously providing revenue to the county and his department by shifting emergency medical transportation away from the private sector.
Hartwig, a paramedic firefighter who rose through the ranks of the county fire district and then spent six years with the Rancho Cucamonga Fire District as a battalion chief and deputy fire chief before he was selected as county fire chief three years ago, is seeking to convince Devereaux and the board of supervisors to allow county fire to put non-fire suppression personnel, i.e., emergency medical technicians and paramedics, on ambulances owned and operated by the county and have the county assume authority to provide ambulance and paramedic service in all of the county transport areas now franchised to AMR.
One estimate was that through this program the department could generate a $50 million revenue stream per year that could then be reinvested in fire protection programs throughout the county.
A report received by the Sentinel is that Hartwig’s proposal has so alarmed American Medical Response’s corporate officers that they have offered to pay the county an annual $30 million exclusive franchise fee if the county will simply reject Hartwig’s proposal and essentially extend the current arrangement for AMR to continue operating for ten years.
Thus, if the county accedes to AMR’s offer, Hartwig and the fire department would avoid the level of activity associated with converting the fire department’s current operations to accommodate countywide emergency medical transport. At issue is how the county would use the $30 million per year to be put up by AMR and whether all of that money, or at least a substantial amount of it, will be routed to the fire department to augment current operations within it.
To ascertain the authenticity of these reports, the Sentinel went directly to Hartwig, who said that it is inaccurate to state his department has made a formal bid on the emergency medical transport function for the county.
“We don’t have a proposal,” Hartwig told the Sentinel. “The current emergency medical services contract will be up soon and while they are negotiating an extension what I am attempting to find out is does it make sense for the fire district to bid on it. We are the second largest ambulance provider in the county. We run about 20 ambulances a day depending on time of year. It is not like we would be entering into a business with which we are not familiar. We will position ourselves so if the county chooses to put it out to bid, we can take a look to see if it makes sense for us to make a bid.”
Whether his department would operate its ambulances in just unincorporated areas of the county or whether it would cross over into covering areas that fall within the city limits of the county’s 24 municipalities, Hartwig said, “all depends on how the bid is written. ICEMA would write it [the bidding parameters] and we would determine our interest based on what is in the bid, if in fact they put it out to bid. The board may just renegotiate it or continue the contract as it is.”
Hartwig stopped far short of confirming that his department could generate $50 million a year through the provision of ambulance service to paying customers.
“I’m not sure where you got those numbers,” he said, adding that his department has yet to make a calculation to estimate the revenue that could be realized through taking on the emergency medical transport franchise. “To determine what revenue could be available would be a simple exercise where we would take our current transport fee, multiply it by the number of calls, multiplied by our collection rate and then subtract our costs. That is the way we would figure out how much net revenue would be available. At this point, I don’t know if it makes sense to bid. There is some federal finance participation (FFP) money available to us from Medicare for performing medical emergency transportation. Medicare has started to reimburse public agencies for certified public expenditures. If people are discussing large revenue figures, that is likely because there is new Medicare financing available to public agencies delivering healthcare and transport. Through the new program the fire department is collecting about $800,000 per five thousand transports. County Fire has collected that revenue for the last three years. Once you figure out how many transports there are in the county and you determine what the reimbursement per transport is, then you can figure out how much all of this is worth.”
Hartwig said he did not believe that as a potential competitor in the bid process the county fire department would have a leg up on any others bidding.
“I don’t think it gives us any leverage,” he said. “The county has the responsibility to provide ambulance service countywide except in those areas where prior to June 1, 1980 ambulance service was already being provided by some other jurisdiction. In this county that means everywhere but Rialto and Hesperia.”
Hartwig said he is giving careful consideration to his and his department’s options, but said no decision or commitment has been made, primarily because he does not have all of the information required to make such a decision and it is not yet clear whether the county will put the ambulance franchise out to bid.
“If it is advantageous for the fire district and those that we serve, and bidding takes place, then absolutely, we would bid,” he said. “We know what our costs are. We don’t know what the revenue, or potential revenue, is. It is safe to say county fire is in a holding pattern until we find out what ICEMA and the county board of supervisors will do. County Fire is the second largest provider of medical transportation in the county. The county is the largest provider of pre-hospital care in San Bernardino County. If we could streamline the service and provide a revenue stream, reduce the costs for the users of medical service and provide better service for the taxpayers, sure, we would be interested on bidding.”