The agreement for Idyllwild Fire Department to establish and manage the City of San Jacinto’s fire and emergency services was dissolved Tuesday night, Dec. 20, about six months after the agency was created.
In a special meeting of the board for the Idyllwild San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority, both the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commissioners and the San Jacinto City Council unanimously (9-0) agreed to dissolve their Joint Powers Authority to provide fire and emergency services to the city.
San Jacinto is currently contracting with Riverside County Fire Department and earlier this month, recommended extending that contract through June 2018.
Prior to its creation, the JPA’s supporters touted its ability to save money while providing the same or better services. But the agency never had the opportunity to demonstrate or prove those claims.
Almost immediately after establishment, its implementation was put in abeyance until an appropriate dispatch service was obtained. By June 30, when the city needed to decide whether to implement the JPA or continue with the county, the apparently reluctant decision was to continue with Riverside County for another year.
Meanwhile, IFPD was tasked with securing dispatch service so that the JPA agency could begin to function in July 2017.
However, the city, on behalf of the JPA, filed a lawsuit called a validation action in early August. This litigation would defend and establish the city and IFPD’s right to create and implement a joint fire authority.
By November, Riverside County, the City of Hemet and Cal Fire Local 2881, to which the county firefighters who served in San Jacinto belonged, had filed objections.
Thus, the simple procedural suit had become a major piece of litigation, which would be lengthy and, therefore, costly to bring to a successful conclusion, according to San Jacinto City Manager Tim Hults. It could take several years to resolve.
Also, the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau concluded that “… a joint powers authority is a ‘public agency … [and] must comply with the procedures set out … before entering into a fire protection contract.” This would require the county Local Agency Formation Committee to review the new entity and how the fire services contract would affect other public agencies in the county.
Earlier this month, the San Jacinto City Council had voted to withdraw its support for the litigation.
After nearly an hour in closed session discussing the litigation with counsel, the two entities, jointly and separately, voted to dismiss the litigation and dissolve the JPA.
“I’m disappointed,” admitted IFPD President Jerry Buchanan. “I thought there was a way to make it work.”
According to counsel, both the city and IFPD will have to approve a resolution dissolving the JPA, but after Tuesday’s vote, that is a formality. The joint fire agency is terminated.
Buchanan, who was noticeably frustrated, promised that IFPD would continue to go forward and the commission would “… see what else we can do to save money or bring in revenue. It’s a good place to work.”
At the council meeting when the city withdrew its participation in the litigation, it also authorized Hults to hire a consultant to analyze the city’s fire services and potential options. He confirmed that “the potential for a JPA will be analyzed in the upcoming fire services analysis.”