The Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) is in dire straits. The commission confesses the fact when the subject of borrowing money from Riverside County just to get to December is on its agenda.
But the commission took no action at its regular meeting on Sept. 13, yet scheduled a special meeting one week later for the same purpose.
Honestly, we don’t make this stuff up. This potential crisis affects the Hill, including Pine Cove, because IFPD provides ambulance service to all of us.
Our fire protection district may have to close its doors because it can’t pay its bills until the December property tax revenue and special assessments begin to arrive.
Some on the board believe this to be a simple cash flow problem. Once tax receipts arrive, the problem goes away. I believe this is a life-threatening problem.
The commission was apprised of its situation for years. When Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly, whom some colleagues believe is ineligible for serving on the commission, began his term, he asked how net assets could erode from $1.9 million to $600,000 in only four years. Two years later, the assets are $30,000 greater, but that’s because the latest audit restated (increased) the net assests for the beginning of the year by $155,000!
No one on the staff answered the commissioner’s query. The first reaction was to blame the former chief and bookkeepers. But the agency’s cash reserves (or balances) have continued to decline.
Last week, I wrote that only $300,000 was in the IFPD’s bank accounts at the end of July. The spending rate was $160,000 per month.
Since a financial report was not available at the regular meeting, the current cash balance was not discussed. I was able to get an answer the next day.
A week ago, the cash balance was less than $60,000. That was the middle of September and tax revenue won’t appear for another three months; meanwhile, spending continues at a rate of more than $150,000 monthly.
On Thursday, the commission decided it had better address this issue.
Whether you believe the problem will disappear with the arrival of about $300,000 (which was the December 2010 revenue level) or believe it’s a long-term problem, the commission must act.
Consequently, two good men — IFPD President Pete Capparelli and Commissioner Paul Riggi — should resign. They were defeated in last month’s election and are lame ducks.
While that’s a common condition among politicians, the IFPD commission has to take immediate actions that will have long-term consequences on the agency and the town.
As Chamber President Nick Todd said, “Losing one of three fire departments would impact issues of insurance availability and premiums.”
Lame ducks should not be making critical decisions for which they will have no accountability. Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo should be appointed to their seats early so that they can join the other commissioners in deciding the future of this district.
They will be held accountable in 2015, when their terms end. But Capparelli and Riggi, regardless of the how well they may have served, are not accountable to you for their actions as commissioners during the next 10 weeks.
And, don’t believe that writing a letter to the county requesting help is all that’s necessary to stabilize the district until December. Riverside County has its own financial crisis. See the story on page 1.
Supervisors are in the midst of deliberations over cutting county salaries or staff. They might have some suggestions for the IFPD Commission to take before sending the money. So if the commission has to negotiate a deal with county, don’t you want someone whom you can hold accountable for the results of those negotiations?