Editor’s note: The Town Crier has interviewed each of the six candidates for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission. The series began on July 14 with interviews with incumbent Commissioners Pete Capparelli and Paul Riggi and continued on July 21 with interviews with challengers Paul Miglin and Mark Spehar. Today concludes the interviews. Ballots will be mailed to voters and will be due back to the Registrar of Voters’ office by Aug. 30.

Jerry Buchanan. Photo: J.P. Crumrine
What are IFPD’s priorities for the next year and next five years?
They need to get a true handle on their budget. The budget is a working document and they can revise it whenever they want. Changes should not be a shock for the commission.

They’re $240,000 in the hole, but you don’t know whether they’re on a cash or accrual basis. That’s a large problem. The commission seems to lack interest in reconciling the budget. I balance my home checkbook, they should be able to do this and we need a final audit [for the fiscal year 2009-10]. I don’t feel confident that the budget is behind them.

How can you help achieve these priorities?
I’ll try to bring more accountability to the commission, such as asking for the commission to approve all contracts, including contractors. But it’s not the commission’s responsibility to be the treasurer. The chief and his staff have to learn how to do this. I’ll insist on better budgets, including multi-year projections.

Accountability extends to service to the public. When I asked for a packet for the last meeting, I was told they wouldn’t be ready until just before the meeting. Everyone should have the opportunity to read it and prepare for the meeting. And if special meetings are needed, which actually should be much more rare than they are, we should announce those with more than 24 hours notice.

Are the district’s finances resolved? What is the need for Measure G?
Measure G is a future issue. It seems necessary for things such as equipment replacement. At this time, I’m not supporting it because they can’t give answers on the district’s finances. Until the public has a clear picture, they can’t ask for more money until we can see how it was used in the past.

Are there operational priorities? What about getting more inspections completed?
At least four or five people have asked me, “What’s your position on inspections?” My perception is these have to be a high priority. Fire prevention is the best option. I’d want more done and do them early each year.

My impression is that inspections are lagging. There is no record of inspections any more. Are they doing drive-by inspections and looking at the lots from the street without walking in the neighborhoods?

What about the latest grand jury report? Will IFPD do the study?
I think it forces the department to get an accurate cost of what CAL FIRE would charge. There may be several options to doing the study. I’m not proposing any changes, I just want to see the cost analysis and then look at the results.

What will the board do about the comments directed at Commissioner Schelly?
If they feel there is a problem, then turn it over to the District Attorney or Attorney General. If they turn it over, I hope they don’t give just one side of the issue. There are clearly two sides, they can put together a report with all the parts.

Why did the paid-call cadre virtually disappear?
I don’t know enough to say much. There has been many big drawbacks to being a paid-call firefighter. If they resurrect the paid-call, there’s the potential to drive down total costs.

I’m not running to make major changes to the fire department. I bring more financial capability to the table. If I’m having trouble with their budget, then most people are having more trouble than me. I bring accountability to commission and expect the chief to be accountable for the operations.