Now Unwanted LAFCO Study Of Public Services Threatens 29 Palms H2O District

The San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission remains on course to consider the viability of the City of Twentynine Palms subsuming two of that community’s independent agencies, despite the apparent discontinuation of City Hall’s enthusiasm for doing so.
San Bernardino County’s division committed to hashing out jurisdictional disputes and setting both geographical and administrative boundaries will review, in a meeting to be held next month, whether the municipal services in Twentynine Palms which are not currently provided through the city government should continue under the administration of two entities that were in existence prior to the city’s 1987 incorporation.
The city triggered the review, but the city council has now rethought the wisdom of forcing the service realignment. To the chagrin of at least a handful of officials, the county remains intent on following through with the examination.A survey of Twentynine Palms residents conducted last year queried as to whether keeping the city’s water department and cemetery under the management of independent districts was considered acceptable. Before all of the responses had trickled in, city staff and the council requested that the county commission, known by its acronym LAFCO, have its staff examine, at an approximated cost of $7,699, the merger of the water and cemetery districts with the city. That application included an indication that the consolidation of functions was being contemplated. Upon assessing the survey, however, city officials concluded that such a merger was not a priority with the city’s residents, who expressed in relatively straightforward terms that they were satisfied with the performance of the independent agencies.
The city sought to withdraw the request. Despite that, LAFCO staff, having already significantly progressed toward a finding and a conclusion, resolved to complete its service review and enter a determination as to whether consolidating the services would be beneficial. According to available information, LAFCO staff believes that both the cemetery and water district are efficiently run, but there would be benefits in terms of economies of scale and elimination of certain redundancies such as in the administrative and personnel realms that would be realized by a city takeover or in certain cases, allowing the city to function as the lead agency on certain projects. These changes could net a savings of $200,000 or more annually in 2022 dollars, according to LAFCO.
A member of the LAFCO board is former Twentynine Palms Councilman Jim Bagley. His status as a resident of Twentynine Palms with his ear to the ground allowed him to report to the rest of the LAFCO board and staff that a number of the members of the Twentynine Palms Water District, which includes Randy Leazer, Bob Coghill, Michael Arthur, Carol Giannini and Suzi Horn, were taken aback by the seeming intent to do away with the district and preclude their authority. Bagley conveyed this to the LAFCO staff, which was already well into the process of doing its evaluation.
Members of the city council, sensitive to the impression that they were gunning to terminate the district and the board, following a consideration of the tentative results of the survey, called for dropping the matter. City officials spelled out to LAFCO that they were no longer interested in seeing the water district dissolved and transformed into a city department.
Nevertheless, the LAFCO board is yet to consider at its September 21 meeting the way in which the provision of water service to the residents of 58.76 square mile city as well as the additional 30 square miles within the city’s sphere of influence that make up the water district’s roughly 89 square mile service area might be improved under the city’s management.
The report to be presented next month summarizes the city’s options with regard to the water district and the cemetery district, which could be made a facet of the city’s municipal operations through a protocol of reregistering the district with the state as a city department.

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