The County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) Advisory Committee discussed the need and level for a new parcel fee last week.

The current fee of $ 60.90 was initially approved in an August 2004 vote as $50 with an escalation formula. The assessment helped defray the cost of emergency ambulance service, which the Idyllwild Fire Protection District provided under contract with Riverside County.

In 2004, the cost of the contract for ambulance service from IFPD was $76,446. By 2015, the last year, the cost had grown to $128,858.

A year ago, when Riverside County adopted a new countywide ambulance contract with American Medical Response, it stipulated that the Mountain Plateau (exclusive of Idyllwild) should be part of this service. Thus, beginning July 1, 2015, CSA 38 residents no longer have to pay collectively for the ambulance service. AMR does charge individuals for cost of transport to hospitals.

Consequently, at the CSA 38 October meeting, Bill Brown, development manager for the county’s Community Services Division, asked the Advisory Committee to consider the future of this fee. Is it needed or can it be eliminated?

At that meeting, Advisory Committee Chair Jerry Holldber appointed a subcommittee composed of committee members Marge Muir and Lou Padula to consider and solicit what future needs might be served by the CSA. Would Pine Cove need funding beyond the basic ad-valorum property tax the CSA receives from Pine Cove property? This amounts to about $60,000 annually. (Parcel fees total about $90,000.)

At Wednesday’s meeting, Muir and Padula reported that the community appears to support imposing a new fee that would be used for safety, fire or medical purposes within the Pine Cove community.

“I felt we heard support for an umbrella of safety needs,” Muir said.

Expanded fire abatement is one example for using extra funds. Increased communication about the need for fire abatement, including public education, was another proposed at the meeting.

“As a member of the public, fire is one of my biggest concerns,” said Jeff Smith, a Pine Cove resident. “I support an active engagement by the CSA to protect our homes. I want to see the continuance of the parcel fee if the money was for abatement and reduction of fuels.”

Another possibility is installing more fire hydrants in the community. Holldber, also the Pine Cove Water District general manager, described the water district’s pipeline plans for the next three years, but stressed that much more than five hydrants per year would be difficult.

Maintaining and improving the fuelbreaks along Pine Cove’s perimeter was another suggestion, as well as improving emergency escape routes.

“We could maintain or even expand and finish off these routes,” Holldber added.

Holldber suggested that Cal Fire’s inmate crews might be able to assist with these efforts, thus reducing CSA costs.

Also attending the session was County Fire Division Chief Bill Weiser, who concurred with the direction and tone of the comments.

“We could contribute work for community-based fuelbreaks,” Weiser said. “But, [it’s] unlikely we’d be able to abate individual private parcels. Anytime a community wants to work on roads, we’ll support the program. It creates a better fire-safe community.”

Another idea bandied about was the possibility of buying reflective or fluorescent house numbers for Pine Cove homes, in order to help emergency responders find locations at night.

General topics discussed, and that will be reviewed at a future meeting, were fire suppression infrastructure, community awareness and community fire abatement.

Based on these suggestions, Holldber felt that extending the parcel fee at the current level of $60 could not be justified. Muir also opposes an escalator clause on the new fee, preferring a rate that does not change.

The initial estimate of the added funding needs are about $40,000 annually for these possible activities. Holldber estimated this level of funding would equate to a parcel fee of about $30 annually. Muir felt that a $40 fee would be more appropriate.

While there was some discussion of a meeting before the regular April meeting, no decision was made last week.

Whatever the Advisory Committee recommends, county staff, including legal and the Economic Development Agency, will review it before the language can be approved for the November ballot.