Twice in three years, a Riverside County grand jury has issued a report on the Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD).
Neither report addresses mistakes or failures in fighting fires. But both commented on how the agency is managed.
One recommendation appears in both reports. Two separate grand juries recommended that IFPD look at the costs of its services — firefighting and emergency medical.
In 2008, the former commission dismissed the report as merely recommendations to which it did not have to attend.
Last week, the current commission (at least three of the five commissioners) told the grand jury there was no need for this information. They were confident and assured the grand jury that no other entity could provide these services for less money. That may be true.
But the time has come for IFPD to truly examine its costs and how they will be paid for in the future.
By the time you read this column, IFPD’s regular September meeting will be over. It was held Tuesday night, Sept. 13.
The third item for action, “Borrowing funds from County” is not unexpected. As I write, I do not know how the commission disposed of this item.
At the August meeting, Treasurer Ben Killingsworth reported IFPD’s total cash balance was about $300,000 and $125,000 was set aside for benefits. The total July revenues were $43,000 and expenditures exceeded $160,000.
The agency’s largest revenue source is property taxes. Since these funds don’t arrive until December and January, it was easy to estimate that IFPD would need an infusion of cash, unexpectedly high ambulance revenue, or to close the doors.
Years ago, IFPD used loans based on anticipated tax receipts as a bridge from July until tax revenues arrived in December. This practice stopped because the agency had sufficient funds for its expenses until December. But then, the annual expenditures were less than total revenues.
The supposed salvation, Measure G, has been rejected. Voters said to the commission, “We don’t believe you!”
Bailout aren’t gifts. Ask the New York city officials during the 1970s or the Greek government today.
Dealing with and reversing deficit spending is the principal issue of government at all levels. The federal “Super Committee” is assessing more cuts, CAL FIRE’s budget was cut, and read the story on page 1 about the county budget deficits.
It’s time to look forward, if the district and its missions are to be saved, we need to know why the costs are at the level they are and what options are available to either lower these costs or raise more money.
A year ago, IFPD raised its ambulance fees. The justification was because IFPD had the lowest rates of any district between Pinyon and Lake Arrowhead. They presented no financial analysis of their cost to provide emergency medical services or whether these increased rates would cover the costs.
It’s time to stop blaming. Don’t blame the former bookkeepers, the former auditors or the former commissioners, and don’t blame the current gang. Even the failed effort to secure Measure G is demonstration of their effort to fulfill their responsibility.
But it is time to evaluate these costs and justify every penny, then they can discuss the options publicly. It’s time to think outside the box. If they believe that new ambulances are a capital priority, why hasn’t the commission approached County Service Area 38, a customer that pays for IFPD’s ambulance service and has cash.
But planting a flag in the sand and simply declaring that no one can do it for less, but we need their money to do it ourselves, undermines the commission’s credibilty. It’s time to find creative and successful solutions.