By Kris Kirschbaum
Idyllwild Fire Protection District held its regular commission meeting on Tuesday, May 23, a meeting that lasted three-and-a-half hours. Vice President Larry Donahoo was excused from the meeting, but all other commissioners were present.
Fire Chief Patrick Reitz moved agenda items to accommodate Liz Loomis, a communications expert recently relocated to Palm Springs from Snohomish, Washington. Loomis made a proposal to the board for improved communication services between IFPD and its constituents. The proposal included multiple communication approaches, including mailed items to residents, use of social media, news releases and public outreach.
The proposal focused on future ballot measures, primarily how to pass Measure W in the future. Loomis’ fees were roughly $40,000 for the first year with a proposed timeline of 18 months.
The board did not approve her proposal. While she confirmed suggestions made by the board regarding communication with the public, there was not money in the budget to meet her fees. The finance committee and Reitz will review the preliminary budget to determine if items can be cut to pay for the communication services before the final budget is presented in June.
One possible budget item that could be scrapped is the external EMS coordinator position. Those funds would help fund costs of a communication expert. The ultimate goal of improved communication with constituents is to pass Measure W. Money received from Measure W would justify expenses on communication services proposed by Loomis.
Measure W also played a role in the annual Unit Fee/Parcel Fee which remains the same for 2017-18 at $65.
But the first hour of the meeting was a closed session to confer with legal counsel regarding existing litigation in James Reyes vs. IFPD regarding public employee discipline/dismissal/release. Only commissioners, Chief Patrick Reitz and the attorney were present.
Once the regular meeting began, the attorney informed the public that there was no reportable action resulting from the closed session.
Reitz reported that notices for property abatement had been sent, and he anticipates that second inspections will be 100 percent completed by Thursday, June 1.
Changes in personnel in recent weeks included retirement of Capt. Jack Peckham and sudden resignation of Eddie Apodaca. Two captains in training are expected to take the captain’s test soon.
Regarding community involvement, the chief reported that the May blood drive had a lower turnout than usual, but that the number of attendees at the Spaghetti Dinner exceeded their expectations.
Battalion Chief Mark Lamont presented the April 2017 fire, medical and incident statistics. The stats showed using the rescue squad instead of the fire engine in the last month resulted in faster response times and more cost-efficient use of equipment. Medical responses accounted for the majority of calls. Roughly 84 percent of calls in April alone were requests for emergency medical services, and the yearly running total from July 2016 showed that more than 75 percent of the calls for assistance were EMS calls.
Lamont also reported that on June 1, the Idyllwild Career Firefighters Association will issue Red Cards to those who finished wildland fire training.
Paul Riggi of the Idyllwild Volunteer Fire Company reported on the success of the Spaghetti Dinner. Next events included the volunteer barbecue at Idyllwild School on May 30, and an awards ceremony the same day at the school to honor Michael Sabo with an academic achievement award.
Treasurer Jerry Buchanan presented the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The total budget calls for about a $100,000 increase, which is a 4-percent increase over last year’s total budget of just over $2 million. Large percentage increases in expected revenues are projected to come from two sources: supplemental property taxes for previous years, and double the amount of financial donations. Largest increases in expenditures are for captains’ overtime pay (mutual aid) with more than a 700-percent increase (from $2,500 to $20,300) from last year, and a 3,400-percent increase (from $100 to $3,500) for publications and legal notices.
Other large increases in expenditures are listed as bank fees (550-percent increase from $200 to $1,300) and miscellaneous district expenses (2,000-percent increase from $100 to $2,100 ). Ambulance service rates will increase 4 percent for all ambulance services rendered in 2017-18. The preliminary budget was approved with a final budget for next year expected in June. The balance sheets and budget are available for review.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 27.