At its Tuesday, July 12 meeting, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Commission reviewed its end-of-year financial condition and discussed the recent Grand Jury report on the agency.

Although the district’s expenses exceeded its income by $235,000, several unique one-time circumstances explain a significant portion of the deficit, said Commissioner Ben Killingsworth.

He first defended his duties as treasurer and explained that he did not handle cash or make deposits. Although he could sign checks, all commissioners have that authority.

Income was nearly $187,000 less than 2010. More than half of the difference is attributable to two late payments from Riverside County. The larger, $88,000, is the second portion of IFPD’s special assessments. The second is the quarterly payment for ambulance service to County Service Area 38 and Zone 3. In addition, Killingsworth projects additional mutual aid payments from the federal government, such as $18,000 for the time Chief Norm Walker served on the Wallow Fire in Arizona last month.

Ambulance income was $66,000 more than 2010, but only $15,000 more than the original estimates. Fees were increased last fall and transports to hospitals have been nearly 50 percent of all medical calls in the past year, compared with about one-third of calls in 2006 and 2007.

Expenses were a lesser problem than revenue. Killingsworth reported that they were $50,000 more than in 2010 and $75,000 more than the 2011 budget. Unexpected CalPERS and deferred compensation payments, amounting to nearly $75,000, were the principal reason for the over-budget amount.

Other budget highlights, according to Killingsworth, were that IFPD’s salaries and benefits were $8,500 under budget, although overtime was $21,000 (nearly 25 percent) more than the budgeted amount.

The reduced use of paid-call firefighters saved the department about $2,500 and the elimination of the volunteer firefighter retirement payment saved another $3,500.

Killingsworth did note higher insurance costs. Health benefits were $18,000 more than budgeted and vehicle insurance was $13,000 more. In addition, audit costs were $13,000 more than budget, but he expects those to level off this fiscal year after the 2009-10 audit is completed. IFPD is still awaiting that audit.

“Actually we wound up the year a whole lot better than we thought,” Killingsworth said in summary of the district’s financial situation.

IFPD President Pete Capparelli reviewed each of the six findings in the June rand Jury report. He said the district appreciated the Grand Jury’s efforts and would respond within the 90 days allotted.

Most of the discussion addressed two findings. The grand jury indicated that Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly may have a conflict remaining as an active paid-call firefighter while serving on the commission. In addition, many people addressed the report’s recommendation to analyze the department’s costs for providing medical service and how that might vary with greater use of volunteer rather than career and the cost of CAL FIRE providing fire service.

Walker reported that IFPD is working with the U.S. Forest Service, at the request of Mercy Air, which provides helicopter emergency medical service, to move the landing zone from Desert Sky School to the Keenwild helibase.

“It’s good for the community and worth it for everybody concerned if we accomplish [the move],” Walker said.

Former Capt. Jim Manietta is presented with a hand-hewn fire ax. Paid-call Capt. Keith Smith and IFPD Fire Chief Norm Walker made the presentation during a department meeting last week. Photo by Cid Castillo