Commission to pursue unit fee increase: Ad hoc IFPD committee to develop details

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The Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commission has approved a motion to authorize a $91 annual increase to its current $65 unit fee. District voters must approve the increase, which the commission plans to place on the November presidential ballot.

To prepare for the vote, the commission established an ad hoc committee to develop the actual language for the measure and to prepare information and educational material for the campaign. The committee will be composed of Commission President Jerry Buchanan, Finance Committee Member Susan Weisbart and Fire Chief Patrick Reitz.

“The actual amount is not definite yet,” Reitz said Monday. There was considerable discussion about how the finance committee, chaired by Commissioner Nancy Layton, arrived at the amount and why it felt that number was important, Reitz added.

“There has been a lot work invested in this and the finance committee downplayed the amount of time it spent and the individual members spent researching the issues,” Reitz said.

The commission was supportive of the concept to attach an accelerator to the fee so that it would remain constant with inflation. “There was no accelerator on the original fee, which means we’re living off of a valuation set in the early 1980s,” he stated.

Although the current unit fee limit is $65, the collected amount was not always set at that level. Reitz stressed and hoped this attitude would continue with future commissions. “The board intention is not to have to tax at the full amount every year, but only when necessary,” he said.

The ad hoc committee will also review the proposal to set a 10-percent cap or limit on the reserves. Reitz believes that 10 percent should be the minimum with a goal of 25 percent. So this language will be examined, too.

The estimated new revenue over the first seven years is about $2.3 million according to the staff analysis. Besides the proposed capital improvement plan, the fire district has substantial deferred maintenance needs around the station. Also, he emphasized that the firefighters accepted salary reductions in March 2012 “… to keep the district running.”

Their commitment to the community is exemplified by the lack of turnover since the base salary reduction.

The vote was unanimous, 4-0, with the exception of Commissioner Jeannine Charles-Stigall who was absent.

The commission also discussed the financial consultant’s role and the current contract. The finance committee has been considering a new request for proposal, but the commission asked Reitz to review the situation and have further meetings, with Rob Dennis the consultant since July 2013. The contract can be renewed for two more years, according to Reitz.

Although the committee has concerns about the financial reports, Reitz said the department staff work well with Dennis and believe the committee’s concerns can be resolved. In addition, the current budget, while in “pretty good shape” did not anticipate staff assuming this work.

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