What happens when a city finds itself unable to pay for firefighter
services? Should the county step in to help pay, or should taxpayers in
neighboring cities pay costs in order to keep communities safe?
Those questions were touched on during the Aug. 20 Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting as the supervisors unanimously approved an agreement that places costs of fire protection in the City of Jurupa Valley with the county.
"A deal is a deal," said Board Chair John Benoit, who represents the Fourth District.
The deal is this: Jurupa Valley entered into a “Revenue Neutrality Agreement” with the county on July 13, 2010, nearly a year before it became a city, according to county documents. The agreement, which outlined a long-term tax share plan with the county, where local taxes are shared with the county, paved the way for incorporation. Under the agreement, the county pays for the city’s fire services.
Under the new agreement approved Tuesday, which runs through June 30, 2016, the county will continue to fund Jurupa Valley’s estimated $5.9 million in fire services, according to the county documents.
When Jurupa Valley will pay for its own fire services is unknown. City officials contend their financial crisis stems from the stripping away of vehicle license fees revenue at the same time Jurupa Valley incorporated. The unexpected budget blow was approximately $6.5 million in annual lost revenue, the city maintains.
During discussion of the new agreement, First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries brought up Canyon Lake, which has fire protection woes of its own. The city will close its only fire station, #60, if Canyon Lake residents decide they don’t want to pay for it. In November, the residents will vote whether to impose a $205 annual parcel tax in the city. If passed, the revenue generated from the tax will keep the station open, officials contend. If the measure doesn’t pass, the city hasn't the money to fund the station so the county may have to step in.
And/or Lake Elsinore and Menifee taxpayers could be on the hook, something Lake Elsinore city officials have spoken against. Firefighters and paramedics located in Lake Elsinore and Menifee fire stations would be responding to Canyon Lake calls if the city’s only station closes.
The supervisors acknowledged the situation is difficult. Jeffries, along with Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone, worried the vote Tuesday sets a precedent: If the county is going to help one city it should help another, Stone said.
Stone reminded his colleagues that special taxes have been unpopular with voters in recent years.
“We need to find a way to keep that station open,” Stone said of Canyon Lake.
Ultimately, the issue brings up the fate of cityhood, Fifth District Supervisor Marion Ashley said.
Jurisdictions need fire protection. Cal Fire/Riverside County Chief John Hawkins told the supervisors the agreement approved Tuesday was “in the best interest of the county.”
Second District Supervisor John Tavagilone agreed.
“In the end, if we don’t they [the cities] come back to us.”