The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved an advance of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s (IFPD) property taxes on a short-term loan.
But trying to blame someone will not make the problem disappear. I’ve heard some people say former Commissioner Ben Killingsworth should have prevented the shortfall.
While Ben may have been district treasurer, he was not employed as the district’s budget officer. Although water district directors receive compensation, Idyllwild Fire commissioners serve as pure volunteers with no monetary reward.
Some argue the entire issue was blown out of proportion. The fire district has gotten advances before; so this is normal. Well, “Yes” and “No.”
Yes, IFPD has used this mechanism in the past to obtain property tax revenue earlier than the normal December and January payments. But, if the process is so normal, it should have been forecast months ago and application made to the county earlier.
The last year that IFPD used this mechanism was in 2004. That year, IFPD borrowed $215,000. In the two previous years, the amount was $185,000 and $190,000. In 2000 and 2001, IFPD requested $295,000 each year. When former Chief Steve Kunkle ceased using the loan, IFPD’s cash balance and reserves were approximately $1.4 million. Within five years, the reserves have disappeared, in fact, not just in name.
From this perspective, the advance or loan was not normal. And, despite the best hopes and weak arguments of some at the district, the issue is not past us.
As of last week, IFPD had $55,000 cash. When the advance arrives, that’s $500,000. In the final three months of 2009 and 2010, IFPD received about $250,000 from ambulance fees and other sources unrelated to property taxes. The total average revenue for the first four months of 2011 (January through April) was $405,000. But that includes the January property tax revenue. So, through April, IFPD might have $900,000 in cash available
If expenditures average $130,000 per month, which was Killingsworth’s estimate, IFPD will need $910,000 for the next seven months because the balance of the property tax receipts won’t come in until May 2012.
They have already started to hold checks in order to maintain the cash balance. That’s what the former regime did with the deferred compensation and CalPERS payments. (I guess old habits are hard to forget.)
Keep in mind that expenses are already beginning to grow. Some items were unexpected, such as the wireless upgrade for the heart monitors. But some were known more than a year ago. When IFPD sent firefighter Greg Minor to paramedic training and paid several thousand dollars for his training and education, they should have included his consequent salary increase in their 2011-12 budget.
Even if the raise is discretionary, which some at IFPD claim, ensuring the money was available in case the chief deemed Minor worthy of the extra $18,000 seems like prudent planning.
So, with respect to how normal this process is, my observation is that it was never before done at this magnitude ($450,000 is more than double the last advance). It was never done this haphazardly. But it was done with a much larger cushion available. And, nobody has yet explained where that cushion has gone.
So, IFPD is requesting residents interested in replacing Ben to submit and application before Nov. 3.
It’s a low-paying job with little psychic compensation. But it’s vital for the community. Two new commissioners — Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo — take office the first week of December and the two incumbent commissioners — Jeannine Charles-Stigall and Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly — have only served since December 2009.
Here’s a chance to get involved. The opportunity for mistakes is very low and the chance of improving the situation seems in your favor.