LAFCO Enumerates Bumps On Road To Daggett, Newberry Springs & Yermo Merger

The staff for the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission last month issued a report in which it said the Daggett, Newberry, and Yermo community services districts remain out of compliance with at least some “generally accepted good governance practices” specified in the California Constitution and state law which had previously been remarked upon.
Last year, the commission recommended that the three districts merge, and it formulated a so-called “plan for service” that would make for consistent service levels, allow for the free distribution of resources between the entities and communities, streamline governance and management and reduce overall costs. A five-year projection made at that time showed the newly-formed district would remain fiscally solvent for at least half a decade, with no diminution of service levels in any of the three communities.
Daggett encompasses 26 square miles and is home to 487 residents. Newberry Springs covers 117 square miles and has 2,288 inhabitants. Yermo, at 74 square miles, boasts a population of 1,629.
Despite the size differences between the three communities, they have similar population densities. Daggett averages 18.7 people per square mile. Newberry Springs has 19.6 residents per square mile. Yermo has a per-square mile density of 22.
Within its confines, Daggett contains its own water company, which services an area beyond its borders, including several businesses and a few residences as well as Silver Valley High School, all located in Yermo.
In 2009, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, known by its acronym LAFCO, identified numerous issues bedeviling each of the districts. In January of this year, LAFCO revisited those problems. At its meeting last month, staff provided the commission with a study of the progress, or lack thereof, made by the districts in addressing those challenges. According to the study, dated August 12, 2015 and put together by LAFCO Executive Director Kathleen Rollings-McDonald and LAFCO Project Manager Michael Tuerpe, shortcomings yet exist.
McDonald and Tuerpe say that the Newberry Community Services District has yet to develop a basic accounting manual despite a recommendation by the county grand jury in 2013 that it do so.
Neither the Daggett nor the Yermo Community Services District have developed or adopted reserve policies.
McDonald and Tuerpe further said that the Daggett Community Services District had failed for years to adopt a budget and had further failed to file 2012-13 and 2013-14 audits.
Daggett Community Service District representatives disputed that in a published report, saying that while past boards may have failed to file their budgets with LAFCO, in recent years the board had in fact passed budgets.
Rollings-McDonald this week told the Sentinel, “We did not receive copies of the 2013-14 or 2014-15 budgets or audits, nor did the county auditor-controller, as the law requires. They may have passed budgets in those years and left them in their office but they did not file them with the auditor controller and did not submit them to us. We double checked.”
Rollings-McDonald did acknowledge that her office has “now received the 2015-16 budget from the Daggett Community Service District.”
Rollings-McDonald said all three community services districts – Newberry Springs, Yermo and Daggett – employed Db Whitford as their auditors.
Rollings-McDonald and Tuerpe’s report said the Daggett water system has a Chromium 6 violation.
Likewise, the Yermo Water Company has long been troubled. Formerly owned by Donald Walker, the Yermo Water Company fell into severe disrepair early last decade, a situation which was exacerbated by Walker’s departure to Florida. As the absentee owner, Walker did not have a licensed operator available to operate the system. Beginning in November 2012, the Yermo Community Services District took over operation of the company’s assets. The Apple Valley Rancho Water Company, a for-profit concern, has since acquired the system.
Daggett and Yermo resisted the local agency formation commission’s push for them to merge six years ago.
There have been similar consolidation imperatives and consolidations carried out involving those communities in the past. In the 1960s Daggett’s school district was forced into a shotgun marriage with the Barstow Unified School District. In 1978, the Daggett School District was able to reassert its independence, breaking away. But in that departure, Daggett had to forego assets and resources local residents felt rightfully belonged to Daggett and not Barstow.
Among some residents, there is concern that the dictates from the county seat in San Bernardino some 70 miles away will impose on them a management and operation plan that will run roughshod over local control and in some cases, at least, result in services, including emergency services, being based at locations that will be more remote and not conducive to quick response or sensitive response.

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