Will Engine 60 ever be in parade again?

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Something big, red and shiny was missing from this year’s Fiesta Day Parade. For what seems like the first time in Fiesta Day history, an engine from Station 60 was not leading or trailing the parade. If it missed in the past, it was because it was called away for an emergency. This year there was no engine because Station 60 on Vacation Dr. has been closed since July 1, 2015, when the contract for fire and paramedic services out of Station 60 expired.

At this week’s City Council meeting, City Manager Aaron Palmer was scheduled to give an update on his recent meeting with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire officials with regard to terms of the one-year extension the department agreed to provide through September 2017.

Palmer was hired this past March and one of his first assignments was to notify Riverside County Fire that Canyon Lake was requesting a one-year extension of the cooperative fire contract with the County of Riverside for fire and paramedic services; and for Palmer to return to the City Council with the proposed terms of an extension, if granted, with the expectation that the proposed terms should be similar to the current contract.

Palmer reported to the City Council that he had notified Riverside County Fire of the decision to get an extension of services, and that he had requested a meeting to discuss the terms of the contract and cost sharing with Lake Elsinore and Menifee. The earliest date the meeting could be scheduled was May 12.

As of this week, the county and three cities involved in the agreement had yet to sign on the dotted line. It is, however, expected they will.

Palmer told The Friday Flyer he would be reporting on the meeting with Riverside County Fire at this week’s City Council meeting; unfortunately too late for this week’s publication deadline.

Currently, Canyon Lake residents receive emergency response from Stations 94 and 97 in Lake Elsinore and Station 5 in Menifee. Canyon Lake pays for this response out of its fire structure tax. In the meantime, the City Council is still grappling with a permanent solution for meeting its public safety needs. A major goal is to have firefighter paramedics back at Station 60.

Options the City Council has been exploring are to establish a municipal fire department staffed by City employees; the possibility of a JPA (Joint Powers Authority) agreement with neighboring cities; or a longer-term contract with Riverside County Fire that is within the City’s budget constraints. The City Council has been trying to negotiate the latter option for many years, unsuccessfully.

The City has been able to buy some time to explore these options with the Utility User Tax (UUT), passed in November 2014. For the first time in several years, the City is projected to end this fiscal year in June with more general fund revenue than expenditures. However, an ESCI fire consultant warned in March that, in the event the UUT sunsets in 2020 and no other recurring revenue source is found to replace it, none of the options (to provide fire services) are sustainable.

The consultant recommended that, before the City chooses any option, elected officials and staff need to establish strategies to address and secure long-term financial resources.

The rising cost of fire services isn’t the City’s only public safety concern. Police costs also are rising. According to an article at kmir.com, on May 24, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff’s request to hike the rates charged to cities and other contract entities for the use of patrol deputies.

The article reported, in part, “The rate increase will be retroactive to July 1, 2015, and is needed to recoup higher operational costs incurred by the sheriff’s department over the past year. Under the revised rate schedule, the cost of a sheriff’s patrol deputy will rise from $149.09 to $160.22 per hour – a 7.46 percent jump from the previous fiscal year.

This is an election year for the City Council. The terms of three sitting members – Tim Brown, Jordan Ehrenkranz and John Zaitz – will end in October. Starting in July, interested persons will be able announce their intention to run for City Council in the November election. Whoever is elected will inherit a budgetary dilemma that has challenged several City Councils.

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Sharon Rice