IFPD budget in good shape: Commission performs autopsy on Measure W’s defeat

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At its April 26 meeting, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission addressed a wide variety of issues. A preliminary presentation of next year’s budget was followed by a long discussion of what the commission should do in the aftermath of the defeat of Measure W, the proposal to increase parcel fees, a review of administrative policies and finally, the approval of a new memorandum of understanding with the volunteer company.

After three-quarters of the current fiscal year (which ends June 30) have passed, expenses are only $4,300 greater than revenues. This situation should be alleviated during the final quarter when about 40 percent of property taxes are received.

Also, Battalion Chief Mark LaMont reported that payments (up to $90,000) for the Ground Emergency Medical Team reimbursements, may also be received before July 1. These payments are for fiscal years 2010-11 and 2012-13.

Also, outstanding mutual-aid reimbursements totaling about $130,000 may also arrive in the district coffers before the end of the fiscal year.

“Things are coming together to meet the budget at the end of the year and we should end the year within the budget,” reported Commissioner Jerry Buchanan, treasurer and a member of the finance committee.

After hearing about the current fiscal year, the commission listened to LaMont’s presentation of the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017-18. He estimated a 4-percent increase in revenues, without the special payments that may occur before or just after the year begins, and a 3.8-percent growth in costs. These are mostly in salary and benefits.

A full-staffing cadre, raises pursuant to the agreed MOU with the career firefighters and substantial increases in the Cal PERS payments for retiree healthcare dominate the expense increases.

Next year, IFPD will make its final payment on Brush Engine 621. Since it was purchased in 2007, the annual payment has been $62,000. As LaMont noted, this is about equal to the increase for Cal PERS’ added costs.

Also next year, IFPD expects no increase for workers’ compensation, which it obtains through the Special District Risk Management Authority. In a recent letter to IFPD, SDRMA also said the total insurance costs will drop nearly $1,400 in fiscal year 2017-18.

Buchanan anticipates a review of the tentative fiscal year 2017-18 budget at the May 23 meeting and approval of the final budget at the June commission meeting.

Buchanan asked the commission to appoint an alternate member to the finance committee because Commissioner Jeannine Charles-Stigall, who will continue as regular member, still has to spend more time off the Hill. President Rhonda Andrewson and Commissioner Henry Sawicki were both appointed alternates.

Following the budgets’ discussion, the commission examined the campaign to obtain passage of Measure W, which would have doubled the current $65 per parcel or unit fee to a $130 fee for all parcels and explored possible future steps.

Although 56.7-percent (838) of voters supported the measure, as a general tax measure, it required approval from two-thirds of the voters; consequently, it did not pass.

Sawicki, who joined the commission last month, said he voted for the measure and wondered what could be done next. “I was heartened, even in defeat, about how close it was [to passage],” he said.

He expressed concern that emergencies are not predictable and, without ample reserves, IFPD was risking a significant financial crisis if a major event damaged the vehicles or the building.

The other commission members discussed the October public meetings, which were held to explain the measure and how the funds would be used. But they expressed disappointed in the low attendance.

LaMont felt that if IFPD could speak to more voters, “… it would help, if we reached more people, to move from about 60 percent to 66 percent … I truly think people voted ‘No’ because of lack of understanding.”

However, Finance Committee Chair Calvin Gogerty argued that it was not just lack of turnout. Ninety percent of the registered voters in IFPD cast a ballot. “To win, we have to turn some ‘Nos’ to ‘Yeses’, not just generate turnout.”

Andrewson and Buchanan also felt the measure was hurt because there were so many propositions on the ballot. LaMont also felt some voters confused Measure W with the state’s $135 Fire Prevention Fee.

The commissioners expressed the desire to resurrect a revenue measure and want to explore the possibility of putting it to voters in an election other than a November presidential ballot. They also will look into the possibility of creating focus groups to get feedback from voters about how to obtain more support or why voters opposed it.

After the money and finance topics, the commission reviewed nine current board policies. Most were approved with minor changes. The purchasing policy will be revised and returned to the commission for approval.

As of the meeting, IFPD has inspected 2,538 residential properties, representing about 68 percent within the district. Of the properties inspected, inspectors failed nearly a quarter of them. Second inspections of these properties will occur this month.

Only failed notices will be mailed. LaMont stressed that if a property owner received no information, the property passed its inspection.

The last major topic was the review of the revised MOU between IFPD and the Idyllwild Volunteer Fire Company. LaMont explained that the major changes would allow for a tiered membership. The company and IFPD benefits from the work contributions of the volunteers, but they don’t all have to be ready as firefighters.

The prior requirement that assumed all the volunteers would be some form of firefighter caused some potential volunteers to decide not to join. The new MOU establishes additional positions as an administrative member and a basic support member. Both are required to obtain levels of training, but not the same training as the emergency medical response or local fire suppression membership.

In other news, IFPD is hosting a celebration at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, in honor of Capt. Jack Peckham, who is retiring in May. The event will be at the Idyllwild Fire Station.

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