Last June, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District and the City of San Jacinto voted to form a joint power authority to supply the city with fire and medical emergency services. It was originally scheduled to go into effect July 1, but a last-minute uncertainty involving dispatch service resulted in the city voting to put off implementation of the JPA until July 1, 2017.
Everyone can see what San Jacinto is getting from this — greater control of its fire and medical emergency services at a lower cost. But Idyllwilders have repeatedly asked the Town Crier: What’s in it for Idyllwild? What does Idyllwild gain by having our fire administrators devoting much of their time to the JPA?
So last Thursday, the Town Crier sat down with IFPD Fire Chief Patrick Reitz to learn his answers to these questions.
Reitz stated that what Idyllwild gains from the JPA is the sharing of costs, “mostly at the administrative level.” Specifically, the chief explained that half of his salary and benefits — and half of those of Battalion Chief Mark LaMont — would be paid by the JPA. So, even if he and LaMont were to receive 50-percent increases in salary and benefits because of the increase in their work and responsibility, Idyllwild taxpayers still stood to benefit by many 10s of thousands of dollars annually, according to Reitz. For just an example, if the chief’s and battalion chief’s combined salaries were $200,000 and they were to increase by 50 percent to $300,000, IFPD would be responsible for $150,000 of those salaries — $50,000 less than IFPD is paying now, in this example.
But the chief also stated that there would be additional savings to IFPD, and therefore Idyllwild taxpayers, owing to bulk purchases, as well as combined hiring, training, testing and maintenance activities. And if the JPA expands to include cities in addition to San Jacinto, the savings to Idyllwild will be greater, Reitz related. He stated that other cities, including those in the desert, have expressed an interest in the new JPA, but he declined to name any cities.
Reitz assured the Town Crier that the JPA would result in no increased taxes to the residents of Idyllwild and that no IFPD monies would be going to the JPA. And he further emphasized that there would be no change in the fire and medical emergency services currently being provided to Idyllwilders — they would continue to come directly from IFPD, not the JPA.
In the past, the chief has estimated that the JPA will take up about 40 percent of his time, leaving 60 percent devoted to Idyllwild, while the battalion chief will be dividing his time 60 percent to the JPA and 40 percent to Idyllwild, and he did not now change those estimates. That means Idyllwilders will be without their services a combined 50 percent of the time. When asked how the chief and battalion chief could afford to give up half of their current Idyllwild Fire time, Reitz responded that he and LaMont could do it, and that they expected that as the JPA matured, the upper-level administrative time needed to run it would decrease.
Reitz assured the Town Crier he would not have allowed the JPA to form — and he does not believe the IFPD board would have approved the formation of the JPA — if they did not believe the JPA would benefit IFPD and the people within the district.
And as to the matter of the JPA not going into effect this year, the chief related that it was only because the question of the acceptability of the dispatch service was raised before the city council at its evening meeting to approve the JPA in June, and an acceptable statement of readiness could not be obtained after hours. Under the gun to renew the city’s fire contract with the county by July 1, the city council then voted to put off the JPA until July of 2017. Reitz stated that, in fact, the dispatch service was prepared and acceptable, but that official notification from the providing entity could not be obtained until the following day — one day too late.