Fire department grows in 2016-17: Revenue growth supports salary and benefit increases

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The Idyllwild Fire Protection District adopted its preliminary 2016-17 budget last week. The total budget is slightly more than $2 million and about $170,000 more than the 2015-16 budget.

Growth in revenues is largely from two sources. The revenues from the county’s property taxes are expected to increase about $140,000 and reimbursement from participation in fighting wildfires outside the district is estimated to increase $60,000.

“The increase in taxes are based on recommendations from the county’s assessor’s office,” Fire Chief Patrick Reitz stated.

The budget does not include any more revenue from either enactment of a proposed November ballot measure to increase the unit (or parcel) fee or the partnership with San Jacinto City to operate a joint powers agency, Reitz emphasized.

The estimated cost of employee benefits grows nearly $110,000. This is the largest expense increase and is attributed to Cal PERS retirement payments and health benefits, according to Commission President Jerry Buchanan.

In addition, salary costs will increase $60,000 (about 6.4 percent). Two drivers of this growth are the recently approved agreement with the firefighters’ association, which provides a 2.3-percent salary increase, and the funding of three captain positions as well as a battalion chief.

Although Reitz said the district was planning to fill all the firefighter positions and to work with just two captains and the battalion chief, the budget allocation for the captains’ positions is the same as 2015-16 when three captains were on staff.

One large expense savings is the projected decrease for legal expenses. While $50,000 was budgeted for 2015-16 and actual expenses, through May, are nearly $110,000, the 2016-17 budget includes just $55,000 for legal costs. Nearly 80 percent of that total is the continuing defense of the case involving the dismissal of former Capt. James Reyes.

The board unanimously approved the preliminary budget and plans to have a hearing and adoption of the final budget at its August meeting, according to Reitz.

In other budget and financial decisions, the board approved a two-year extension of its contract with Rob Dennis, the financial consultant, and approved a $500 stipend to the Mile High Radio Club for its emergency radio station, WNKI.

While he supported the donation, Buchanan recommended that the funds come from the Education and Donation account rather than General Funds.

Current Finance Committee Chair and Commissioner Nancy Layton reported that two of three community members on the Finance Committee were not returning for the next year. Mark Lonsbury and Susan Weisbart declined to continue, but Calvin Gogerty has committed for another year.

Layton told the board she planned to have several candidates available to be appointed at the July commission meeting, but would cancel the July committee meeting.

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