Sugarloaf residents were out in force June 4 at the Big Bear Fire Authority meeting in Big Bear Lake. The cause — they wanted the board to move forward with the optimal alternative ($150) on a fire tax for the Big Bear Fire Department.

The Big Bear Fire Authority met to weigh options to form a community facilities district, which would spread the cost of fire service among residents, the ski resorts, private home rentals and commercial properties in the Valley. Fire Chief Jeff Willis discussed two alternatives, informing the board that he did not believe the $150 assessment would pass by the necessary two-thirds majority required to form the district. His assessment is based on the findings of research, surveys and polls conducted earlier this year.

According to Amanda Clifford, of CliffordMoss, the consultant that did the research for the proposed CFD, Big Bear Valley’s voter makeup is older and conservative, making tax increases or CFD formations a challenge.

“We are not quite where we need to be (for the optimum alternative),” Clifford said. “There is a tax sensitivity in this community.”

Clifford cited the results of the poll, which showed voters overwhelmingly support the fire department but waiver on higher taxes to pay for services. The final ballot test showed 52 percent of those polled would vote yes, nearly 15 percent below the required number needed to form the CFD.

Clifford recommended the board consider the second alternative, which could potentially raise enough funds to improve existing fire department services, adding more firefighters to the staff and saving the Sugarloaf Fire Station.

Earlier in the evening, the Fire Authority voted 9-1 to approve the 2019-20 budget, which keeps the Sugarloaf Fire Station open for at least another year by dipping into reserves to cover deficit spending. Board member Larry Walsh voted against the budget, saying he can never approve deficit spending.

Many of the Sugarloaf residents in attendance disagreed with the results of the poll, which sampled nearly 500 of 9,500-plus registered voters living within the fire district. 

“With all due respect I think that poll is a bunch of nonsense,” said Bob Ybarra. “Those people that were polled I’m sure don’t realize what’s going to happen if this measure does not pass. You’re going to have longer response times throughout the Valley. This is not a Sugarloaf situation. This is a Valley situation. ... If that Sugarloaf closes, then you’re going to be adding 10, 15 minutes everywhere you go.”

Patrice Duncan, another Sugarloaf resident, said she is also disappointed the agency isn’t going to the $150 level. “I am partnering with Andrew Crane, with Bob Ybarra and several other residents in this room,” Duncan said. “We are a volunteer group that is going to make sure this ballot measure passes. We hope you will push the optimal measure for this mountain because it is what we truly need. We are so unique. We cannot become another Paradise, California."

Duncan said the group plans to go door to door to "make sure that every resident in this Valley understands what is going to happen if we don’t pass this measure.”

Board members agreed the optimal option is best for the Valley, but are concerned about the research that shows that measure would fail. With that in mind, a motion was made to move forward to develop the second alternative for the CFD proposal.

That tax measure proposes a 5 cent per square foot assessment for residential and vacant properties, a 1 percent TOT tax, and a $115 annual assessment for private home rentals per room. It also includes $750,000 from the ski resorts, a $115 annual assessment for hotels, motels and timeshares, and a 10 cent per square foot assessment for commercial and timeshare. Revenue from this measure would be approximately $4 million, near the goal of $4.4 million to strengthen the fire district.

Board member Rick Herrick suggested changing the residential and commercial assessments to balance at 5.5 cents per square foot, which appeared to be acceptable to most of the board. The ad hoc committee will fine tune the measure before bringing it back to the full board for approval at a meeting date still to be determined.

Willis explained the time table to the board. A resolution to form a CFD needs to be passed by the Fire Authority by Aug. 6. A public hearing would follow on Oct. 1 followed by an education and information campaign. The target election date is the March 3 election. 

To stay within the timetable needed to meet the deadline for a March 2020 election, the next meeting must be held by June 18, Willis said.

The board also clarified that the TOT portion of the measure would not be included in the CFD proposal. Any change to the TOT — or transient occupancy tax — in the city of Big Bear Lake would need to be proposed by the city of Big Bear Lake City Council then approved by city of Big Bear Lake registered voters in the November 2020 election.

The TOT increase equals about $600,000 of the $4 million in tax revenue projected in this alternative.

If approved by voters, the authority would adopt a resolution and introduce an ordinance in April to form the CFD. The tax would be adopted on June 2 and by June 30 the authority would record notice of a special tax.

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