|Map of existing Daggett (green), Yermo (blue), and Newberry (purple) Community Service Districts. (SBC LAFCO/ESRI)|
The San Bernardino County Local Formation Commission has recommended that the Daggett Community Services District consolidate with two other nearby community service districts. This week the Local Agency Formation Commission reviewed a draft plan, the centerpiece of which is that the Daggett Community Service District, the Yermo Community Services District and the Newberry Community Services District be merged to form one district.
Under that recommendation, the services for all three communities would be provided in common and consolidated.
The Local Agency Formation Commission staff has formulated a so-called “plan for service” that would make for consistent service levels, allow for the free distribution of resources between the entities and communities, streamline governance and management and reduce overall costs. A five-year projection shows the newly-formed district would remain fiscally solvent for at least half a decade, with no diminution of service levels in any of the three communities.
Daggett encompasses 26 square miles and is home to 487 residents. Newberry Springs covers 117 square miles and has 2,288 inhabitants. Yermo, at 74 square miles, boasts a population of 1,629. Despite the size differences between the three communities, they have similar population densities. Daggett averages 18.7 people per square mile. Newberry Springs has 19.6 residents per square mile. Yermo has a per square mile density of 22.
Within its confines, Daggett contains its own water company, which services an area beyond its borders, including several businesses and a few residences as well as Silver Valley High School, all located in Yermo.
The Yermo Water Company has long been troubled. Formerly owned by Donald Walker, the Yermo Water Company fell into severe disrepair early last decade, a situation which was exacerbated by Walker’s departure to Florida, making it difficult for his company’s customers to contact him.
As the absentee owner, Walker did not have a licensed operator available to operate the system. During the summer of 2006, the primary water tank serving the Yermo community’s water system developed a leak and customers were without water for a week in the small community near Barstow, where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees every day. The California Department of Health and the California Public Utilities Commission initiated an investigation into the matter in 2007.
A decision to pursue the appointment of a receiver was issued in May of 2009. A community-based prospective buyer surfaced and the receivership was suspended while it appeared that a sale of the system was possible. But after more than two years of negotiations, Walker refused to inform the prospective buyer how much he owed in back taxes and fines to the California Department of Health. As a result, the sale fell through. The receivership arrangement that took place in November 2012 was contested by Walker’s family but was denied by the Superior Court on March 6, 2013. Beginning in November 2012, the Yermo Community Services District took over operation of the company’s assets and in December 2013, arrangement for the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company to purchase the Yermo Water Company in its entirety began. Preparations for that takeover are yet ongoing, as repairs to the water system are being carried out.
In its 2012-13 report, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury identified numerous shortcomings in the governance, accounting and financial management, and internal controls of the Newberry Springs Community Services District. The Local Agency Formation Commission detailed its staff to look into those issues and others pertaining to Yermo and Daggett. The upshot was a finding that it would behoove all three districts to merge and settle on management and leadership for the collective that is competent and efficient. At the very least, according to commission staff, the Daggett Community Service District and Yermo Community Services District should come together to form one entity. Economies of scale, not to mention other advantages, make it logical that the Newberry Community Services District be brought in on the merger, according to the Local Agency Formation Commission.
There have been similar consolidation imperatives and consolidations carried out involving those communities in the past. In the 1960s Daggett’s school district was forced into a shotgun marriage with the Barstow Unified School District. In 1978, the Daggett School District was able to reassert its independence, breaking away. But in that departure, Daggett had to forego assets and resources local residents felt rightfully belonged to Daggett and not Barstow.
Daggett and Yermo resisted the Local Agency Formation Commission’s push for them to merge five years ago.
While few of the residents in the Daggett, Newberry or Yermo communities look upon the pressure to merge favorably, they are subject to the authority of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which is putting each district through its paces in having to respond to the merger concept. The Local Agency Formation Commission will lay out the options outlined by its staff and present them to the three communities and their residents. On January 21, the Local Agency Formation Commission will consider those plans/options.
For a significant number of residents, there is concern that the dictates from the county seat in San Bernardino some 70 miles away will impose on them a management and operation plan that will run roughshod over local control and in some cases, at least, result in services, including emergency services, being based at locations that will be more remote and not conducive to quick response or sensitive response.