Big Bear Lake, CA April 12, 2012 3:00 pm – The fire agencies of Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City have taken the first step in what has been described as an eventual merger of the two agencies.  Most of the general public is unaware that there are as many as 5 different fire agencies in Big Bear Valley.  The Big Bear Lake Fire District and the Big Bear City CSD Fire Agency are the most visible having the largest local group of paramedics-firefighters, equipment and fire stations in Big Bear. On Wednesday morning during a joint meeting of the CSD and the Fire District at Hofert Hall it was agreed to by unanimous vote from both boards that a Joint Powers Agreement would be drafted in order to form a new Joint Powers Authority.  As a JPA each agency will keep their autonomy but will begin to combine some future equipment acquisitions such as laptop computers, heart monitors as well as communications equipment.  The mission of this new JPA would be to maintain present service levels, save additional tax funds, share rescue equipment and perhaps directly employ additional personnel.   In order to better assess the viability of this JPA and possible merger Paul McDonald from C.M. Crinis and Company evaluated the fiscal condition of both fire agencies and reported that both agencies were healthy and that in his opinion there were no financial roadblocks keeping the JPA from moving forward.  In addition Mr. Mcdonald did caution that current unfunded retirement programs and the threat of future obligations need to be addressed sooner than later.   Both fire agencies are represented by the law firm Best Best and Krieger and so the boards were presented with the legal benefits as well as potential pitfalls. The attorneys concluded that a new Joint Power Authority was the best vehicle for moving forward.  If the next step is a complete merger of the agencies then it would need to be approved by the Local Area Formation Commission better known as LAFCO.  A staff member from LAFCO was on the agenda to speak about the merger process but was unable to attend due to snowy road conditions.  Fire Chief of both agencies, Jeff Willis, went on to explain that the LAFCO review process would take at least 9 months to complete and that with the JPA and additional time the labor unit differences could be reconciled.  As the final vote was tallied a spontaneous round of applause broke out and was then echoed with positive comments from the east and west side of the board room.  Fire Chief Willis said that he appreciated the cooperation of both boards and that Big Bear is embarking on a historical journey.  Once the Joint Powers Agreement is drafted it will take, at a later meeting, the approval of both boards to ratify it and move forward.   It was reiterated that persons needing fire or medical assistance would not see any change in service.