Twentynine Palms Ups Fire Facility Impact Fees

TWENTYNINE PALMS—The Twentynine Palms community is make slow and incremental steps towards shoring up its fire department.
The Twentynine Palms City Council last month approved the first reading of an ordinance which increases the fire facilities impact fee that are already being levied on incoming residential, commercial and industrial evelopment within the city limits. The higher fees will go into effect on May 21, pursuant to the council giving approval to a second reading of the ordinance on March 10.
Thus, the fee for a single-family dwelling unit will go from $526 to $566. The fee for a multi-family dwelling unit will rise from $416 to $446.
The fees for commercial floor space will jump from $374 to $401 per 1,000 gross square feet. The fees for office floor space will increase by $19, going from $265 to $284 per 1,000 gross square feet. The fees for industrial floor space will go from $147 to $156 per 1,000 gross square feet.
In a report to councilmember, finance diirector Ron Peck stated the fire impact fees have been in place since 2011. Peck said they were intended to be revised annually.
“We haven’t increased the fee for three years,” he said.
The fire department is not a city division. Since 1958, the fire department in Twentynine Palms has been overseen by the water district. The department grew to include two fire stations and seven firefighters to cover the 59 square miles within the Twentynine Palms City Limits and the 29 square miles of unincorporated county area that also falls under the water district/fire department’s 88-square mile jurisdiction. The city does not contribute to, participate in or subsidize the fire department’s operational budget.
The city did, though, initiate the fire service impact fee in 2011. From its proceeds, the fire department was able to make final payments on the purchase of a fire truck.
Fire department operations are, or are supposed to be, funded entirely by a special tax, consisting of an assessment levied upon all of the city’s property owners. The current parcel tax is $80.
In 2012, water district voters rejected Measure H, a tax increase proposal, and the water district explored surrendering authority over the fire department to the county fire department.
That same year, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission indicated the water district would need to find augmenting funding for the fire department or relinquish control of it.
The water district and the city of Twentynine Palms worked on a proposal to have the county’s fire division subsume the fire department but that goal was not achieved after county fire chief Mark Hartwig said that in working within the confines of the $1.244 million in available special tax funding for local fire service, he would need to close down one of the fire stations and reduce the department to no more than four firefighters.
So far the water district has maintained control of the fire department but as of July 1, 2013 the district closed out its Lear Avenue Fire Station. The water district is now leasing the station to Copper Mountain College, which is using the facility to conduct fire science courses.
All of the fire department’s operations are now run out of the Adobe Road Fire Station, known as Station 421, and its paid personnel have been reduced to five. Response times to certain portions of the 88-square mile fire protection jurisdiction have increased.
The water district last year made a commitment to keeping the fire department in place and under control, creating the Twentynine Palms Citizen Advisory Committee. The committee recommended that the city of Twentynine Palms pitch in with regard to making sure the fire department is adequately funded. Incorporated in 1987, Twentynine Palms has yet to evolve into a full service municipality. It contracts with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement service and the water district exists as an independent agency that provides water and sewer service as well as fire protection for the city of 25,768 and its surrounding area.
The Twentynine Palms Citizen Advisory Committee last year also recommended that the water district again seek voter approval of an increase to the parcel tax imposed on residents within the water district’s boundaries.
The committee advised that the district ask their customers to approve a $20.40 per year increase to that assessment on developed property and a $10.20 increase on vacant parcels. The committee has further suggested that the measure authorize the increase for three years and give the district the ability to add a three percent annual inflation adjustment in the years beyond 2018.
The district, however remains somewhat skittish about going hat in hand to the city’s residents.
The fire service funding proposal has not been brought forward and the district last week postponed a rate increase move on the district’s water customers.
Operations on the water district’s water side are supposed to be kept separate from the fire department operations. A water rate increase has been in the discussion stage for some time and the water board had tentatively set an April 1 date for a public hearing on the matter. But on February 25, with board member Roger Shinaver absent, the board voted -0, with Roger Shinaver absent, to move a proposed public hearing on the matter from March 25 to Nov. 18. This will put off implementation of the new rates from April 1 to December 1.

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