Riverside County has filed a claim demanding that the City of Canyon Lake pay almost $1 million in past-due bills for firefighting and emergency medical services the county provided as long as a year ago. The claim (attached) was filed with the city on Wednesday (1/7).
Most importantly, county officials are concerned that Canyon Lake has not taken steps to ensure it can protect its residents during fires and other emergencies once the current services agreement with the county expires in June.
City officials agreed to pay the outstanding costs under terms of a longstanding agreement for the Riverside County Fire Department/CalFire to provide fire and emergency medical services within Canyon Lake's city limits. The city will not pay the $900,000 debt and maintains that the county, despite terms of the agreement, should accept a lesser payment that the city feels it can afford.
Canyon Lake and the county both approved an agreement that establishes appropriate staffing levels and costs. Canyon Lake is among 21 cities and agencies that contract with the county for fire and EMS services. The city already benefits from a regional fire system in which outside agencies respond to 60 percent of the calls within the city limits. At the same time, the portion of the calls to which city crews respond outside Canyon Lake is less than 5 percent of all city responses.
Negotiations over the past year to resolve the dispute, unfortunately, have been unsuccessful. City officials want the county to simply forgive the debt and have made no attempt to pay any portion of invoices that cover services provided since January 2014. In fact, Canyon Lake notified the county in August 2013 that it wanted the city fire station shut down effective December 2013, a move that would have eliminated eight firefighter and paramedic positions from the city. The county, instead, kept lines of negotiations open to avoid a closure that could endanger residents.
Canyon Lake officials contend they cannot afford to pay what they promised, despite residents passing a new tax in the recent election which the city represented to its residents would help pay for public safety services. The tax, however, provides sufficient new resources for the city to pay for necessary services. City officials even have been unwilling to negotiate an extended payment plan that would make it easier for the city to pay for services already rendered.
County officials notified the city that residents countywide should not be asked to subsidize Canyon Lake’s services and that money for the past-due invoices is needed to help residents countywide.
“The county cannot just write off a bill for almost $1 million. Justifiably, other county taxpayers would have reason to be outraged,” County Counsel Greg Priamos said. “That would not be fair to the other taxpayers.”