Fire Committee has concerns about current budget: Next year’s budget still being prepared

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The Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s Finance Committee devoted most of its May 18 meeting to a review of the fiscal year 2015-16 budget that ends June 30. What was not discussed during the meeting was the 2016-17 budget and the effect of the proposed Joint Powers Authority with the city of San Jacinto on the district’s costs.

Through the end of April, the IFPD budget has a deficit of about $320,000. However, during May and June, it will receive its second wave of property taxes from the county and expects ambulance revenue to return to higher levels.

In its review, the committee recommended many changes, ranging from $100 to $100,000. But it recognized that it was too late in the fiscal year for budget changes to affect decisions. The committee will wait for the actual results after the year closes and reassess next year’s budget when it is reviewed.

The committee has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, May 24, to look at the 2016-17 budget.

The largest proposed adjustment was for legal services. Through April, IFPD had spent more than $110,000 on legal costs, but the budget was for only $50,000. Nearly 90 percent of the costs were attributable to the effort to dismiss former Capt. James Reyes. With two months remaining in the fiscal year, the committee felt that another $40,000 in charges might still occur.

The committee continued to express disappointment with budget presentation and lack of requested reports. In the past, the committee has requested financial consultant Rob Dennis to align the budget accounts with the commission’s approved totals and requested other reports.

“These are still not what we’ve requested,” said Committee member Susan Weisbart. “He never fixed the budget. So we can’t tell the real situation, which is not boding well for the board or this committee … I want the board to truly understand where [the budget] stands, because I don’t.”

Committee Chair Nancy Layton, also a commissioner, said Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and she would be meeting with Dennis in the next few weeks.

When asked if the proposed agreement with San Jacinto would be discussed and how would it affect next year’s budget, as well as the possible tax measure, both Layton and committee member Mark Lonsbury said it was premature to address this issue. Since no details were available, there was nothing to discuss.

Just the night before, Layton and fellow commissioner and committee member Jeanine Charles-Stigall attended a San Jacinto City Council meeting where the agreement and its possible costs and savings were discussed.

Battalion Chief Mark LaMont made the same presentation to the full fire commission on Monday, May 23, that was given to the SJCC on May 17.

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