Out of step with local water and fire districts, County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) will consider lowering and, possibly, eliminating its parcel fee.

The recently approved ambulance contract between the county and its ambulance provider, American Medical Response, shifts responsibility for ambulance service to the county.

Once that contract begins on July 1, 2015, CSA 38 will no longer have to pay a fee for ambulance service to the Pine Cove area. This year the expected cost of the contract is nearly $129,000.

Last fiscal year ending June 30, the parcel fee yielded nearly $91,400 to CSA 38. That and a portion of the annual ad valorem fee from county property tax collections were the sources of revenue to pay for the ambulance contract between Riverside County and Idyllwild Fire Protection District.

The parcel fee was initially approved in August 2004. More than 75 percent of the voters supported the parcel fee, whose purpose was for extended fire protection and enhanced ambulance service. The initial fee was levied at $50, with a minimum of 2 percent increase annually and is at $59.72.

CSA 38 Advisory Committee will discuss the future of the parcel fee at its meetings over the next few months. Its next meeting is scheduled for March 11.

Committee Chair Jerry Holldber hopes more details about the new ambulance service will be available before the meeting.

“We need guidance and plans from the county and AMR,” he said. “As more information about the ambulance plan comes from the county, it will be easier to determine … if additional support is needed. Do we need the funds and what for?”

The parcel fee can be set to a lower amount, even zero, without repealing its authorization, according to Bill Brown, CSA administrator for the county’s Economic Development Agency.

“Nothing prevents a move to $1 now and back up the following year,” he stated.

However, if the committee feels there is a continuing need for some or all of the parcel fee revenue, Brown urged them to take the request back to the voters rather than relying on the past justification and vote.

“Ideally, I’d like for the community to show and to say what it wants to do,” Brown stressed. Recognizing general opposition throughout the state to more tax levies, such as the State Fire Prevention Fee, Brown urged the committee to cultivate and demonstrate the community’s support for continuing any fee.

“With a number of public meetings, explain that this could go away, but what your purpose for it is,” he explained. “Otherwise, some will point to the existing reserves as a source of funding.”

Committee Vice Chair Marge Muir replied, “The fee was sold because of the need of the people here and the safety of the community and how it benefited the people.”

The CSA 38 cash balance was $617,000 at the end of December. While projected revenues through the end of the fiscal year are more than $100,000, the ambulance contract cost of $128,000 will reduce the year-end closing balance.

In current year business, the committee approved additional funds for improvements to Station 23, including new flooring and appliances for the kitchen and a new apron in front of the bays and along the highway side of the building.

A request for funding to purchase additional equipment, such as GPS trackers and roping, to help with wilderness rescues, which occur more often in this area than the rest of the county, also was approved.