Fire board OKs doubling fee: Voters decide in November

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Idyllwild voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to raise the parcel fees for standby emergency medical services this fall.

At their July 26 meeting, commissioners for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, in the absence of Larry Donahoo, unanimously approved a resolution to double the current $65 per-parcel unit fee to a $130 fee for all parcels.

“$130 is the new base rate and compares to the current rate of $65 and the finance committee’s recommendation of $156,” Fire Chief Patrick Reitz said to the commission about his recommendation. “It will also be indexed to a [consumer price index].”

The added revenues will be an important component of efforts to build a reserve fund, he added. IFPD estimates that after eight years, its reserves will be slightly more than $450,000 or about 20 percent of its current operating budget.

The current parcel assessment raised $200,000 this year, according to the financial report. If voters approve the proposal, projected annual revenue will be about $450,000.

This proposal does change how the fee is imposed, which is why the total is more than double the existing collections. The original 1981 “parcel fee” had a maximum level of $65. However, the actual fee depended upon whether the parcel had structures and the square footage of those structures. For example, undeveloped lots only paid half the fee. And lots with structures greater than 7,000 square feet were assessed twice the approved fee and it grew to four times for parcels with structures greater than 38,000 square feet.

The original fee assessment was $32.50 and did not reach the $65 maximum level until 1993 and again in 2006 until now.

The proposal to be put to IFPD voters would apply the $130 to all parcels, independent of development or size of structures. Commissioner Rhonda Andrewson was dubious about the effect of lowering the fee for some properties. Of the more than 1,600 parcels in the district, four currently are assessed the $260 rate.

If this “universal parcel fee” were the current method, IFPD would have received another $28,000 annually, according to Battalion Chief Mark LaMont.

Board President Jerry Buchanan and Reitz will submit the arguments in favor of the resolution to the county’s Registrar of Voters office this week.

The existing fee ordinance will not be abolished unless the new fee proposal is approved by two-thirds of IFPD voters, which would require about 1,079 votes based on the registration for the June Primary.

In the current financial report, based on preliminary figures, IFPD had net negative income of $18,000 for the fiscal year (2015-16), which just ended. Actual revenues exceeded projection by about $80,000. The largest contributing reason was a greater reimbursement (about $250,000) for participating in federal and state firefighting.

Total expenses for the year were about $1.95 million, almost $100,000 greater than the estimate. Legal expenses (the actual cost was $119,000) were more than double the initial estimate of $50,000. Cal PERS costs were about $45,000 greater than originally thought.

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