The Idyllwild Fire Department’s preliminary 2014-15 budget was adopted last week with the $1.8-million budget projection about $65,000 more than the 2013-14 adopted budget.
Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and Commissioner Nancy Layton, chair of the Finance Committee, said they will continue to review and adjust the 2014-15 budget until a final version is adopted in September.
For example, only $55,000 has been set aside for the dispatch contract with Riverside County although Reitz has frequently said he expects the cost to be about $80,000 next year. They also were unsure whether the projected property tax revenues of $1.1 million included IFPD’s parcel assessments, which are normally about $200,000 annually.
At this point, the only major personnel actions affecting finances are an expected career staff retirement before January 2015 and the near quadrupling of using a contract emergency medical service coordinator. No new capital improvements are projected in the preliminary budget.
In absence of Commissioner Jeannine Charles-Stigall, the commission voted 3-1 to adopt this budget. Commissioner Rhonda Andrewson had requested the item be pulled from the meeting’s agenda to allow her more time to review the proposal, but her three colleagues were ready to proceed. Consequently, she objected to its approval at this session.
In response to Andrewson’s request, Commission President Jerry Buchanan replied, “This budget was worked through the committee process. We need a preliminary adopted by end of June and a final by September. We can make adjustments in July or August, if needed.”
During the budget discussion, Layton said, “The Finance Committee really chewed on [this budget]. It needs some fine tuning but it is recommended to this board.”
The committee recommended and the commission agreed to display net ambulance billings within the revenue totals, rather than just gross billings, while write-offs and adjustments were included in expenses.
Buchanan encouraged that the Finance Committee consider two specific adjustments. One was restoring some or a portion of the reduction in career salaries made two years ago because of budget problems. He also recommended planning for about $2,500 for commissioners’ training or travel expenses.
Following the budget adoption, the commission also adopted new ambulance rates effective July 1. During the discussion of the 2014-15 assessment fee ($65 per unit), Fern Valley resident Chris Fogle recommended that the commission consider another effort to raise the fee. “I am one of those willing to go for increase for materials and supplies. I’m looking for a new push to increase the assessment fees,” he stated.
These fees increase 1.8 percent; however, Reitz, with the commission’s approval, is investigating whether IFPD can make an appeal to either the Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency or the Board of Supervisors for an increase from 5 to 8 percent.
The increases would affect about 25 percent of patients transported. Those who are covered by Medicare, Medi-Cal and some major insurers, would not be affected, according to Reitz.
“The justification [for higher fees] is the cost of the fees we’re being charged through the county dispatch,” he told the commission. “This won’t offset the cost of the increasing fees we continue to see coming for the county dispatch [contract] and no change within sight.” However, the commission’s budget does not project higher costs for the dispatch contract.
As the commission decided last June, individual Pine Cove residents will be charged the same ambulance transport rate, $1,155, as IFPD residents. Pine Cove residents, as part of County Service Area 38, also separately pay IFPD about $128,000 for the ambulance service.
In a final budget issue, the commission approved Resolution 14-05, which authorizes the chief to request an advance of $300,000 of anticipated property tax revenue. Normally, the county begins to distribute property tax revenue in December and January. Since this is about halfway through the fiscal year, IFPD is requesting an advance to ensure sufficient cash available for costs for the first few months.
Previous requests have exceeded $400,000, but the commission believes less is needed this year because it can begin to build its own cash reserves from the funds received when it sold the cell tower lease last year.