For the first time since November 2012, the County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) Advisory Committee met, approving up to $28,000 to purchase fire hydrants for the community.

At the end of fiscal year 2012-13 (June 30, 2013), CSA 38 had nearly $610,000 in its coffers. The current balance remains the same, said Bill Brown, Riverside County CSA coordinator, since nothing has been expended during the first quarter of fiscal 2013-14.

The original request for the fire hydrants was made in a July letter to Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone.

In his letter, Pine Cove Water District Board President Michael Esnard told the supervisor that the district was replacing 13,000 feet of old pipeline and it presented an opportunity to install 10 new fire hydrants in the community.

“All hydrants are located in CSA 38. I believe that the hydrants would last for many decades, and would provide an ongoing benefit to Pine Cove residents. All hydrants would be installed by [PCWD] crews,” he said.

As a result of this request, Stone asked Brown to convene the local advisory committee and solicit its review and recommendation.

While none of the members objected to the idea, there was some concern about the possibility that approving this request might invite the county to use CSA 38 funds for purposes other than fire.

“If CSA 38 chooses to give PCWD this tax money, will it encourage the county to divert money to other projects?” asked Nancy Borchers of Pine Cove. “Is this the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent?”

Marge Muir, CSA 38 vice chair, replied. “I’m concerned it could be too easy so we have to be careful. But the community built the fire station and the community has to be safe. The hydrants are good. The money is from the community and the hydrants are for the community.”

Brown also assured Borchers that the county’s legal counsel has reviewed using CSA 38 funds. Fire equipment, fire protection and volunteers at Station 23 (Pine Cove) are all legitimate purposes for using CSA 38 funds.

CSA 38 has two sources of revenue. The larger amount, nearly $90,000, comes from collection of the special parcel fee approved in 2004 to pay for the ambulance service that Idyllwild Fire Protection District provides Pine Cove through a contract with the county Emergency Medical Services Agency. The other source is a very small percentage of Pine Cove property tax revenue that would otherwise go to Riverside County. This is available to the CSA because of its existence prior to the approval of Proposition 13.

“As a taxpayer, you would pay it anyway,” Brown said.

Following the fire hydrant funding approval, Brown discussed the status of the current evaluation of the county’s emergency medical services system. The evaluation will lead to a request for bidders to provide ambulance service throughout the county by July 2015.

The Mountain Plateau, which includes Pine Cove north and Mountain Center and Garner Valley south, had not seen a bid in more than 10 years. Idyllwild has its own emergency medical services.

“If we’re successful with the countywide contract, it could sunset the parcel tax,” Brown told the committee. If Pine Cove is included in the countywide ambulance service contract, it would not have any surcharge as it does now; therefore the parcel tax — currently about $58 annually — could be eliminated or significantly reduced.

“The county’s goal is you don’t pay taxes other areas don’t; that you’re treated equally,” Brown stated.

The committee plans to meet again in January to discuss its 2014-15 budget. Other topics will include the possibility of acquiring a new fire vehicle for Station 23 as well as funds to do some remodeling of the station.

“It’s been a long time since we had a meeting. It was great to have one,” said CSA 38 Chair Jerry Holldber. “It was very positive and informative. I look forward to the next meeting in January.”