Many of the following thoughts may be obviated after Tuesday night’s Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) commission meeting.
This was the first meeting of the commission with new members — Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo. I wish them the best luck and hope these commissioners can bring the district back from the brink of insolvency.
“Insolvency” sounds harsh, especially when the commission hasn’t had an opportunity to bail the water out of the sinking ship, but the financial data continues to deteriorate.
I extend my sincerest holiday wishes to the commission and district. My Christmas list includes a two-year financial plan for IFPD.
It would begin with the preparation of a financial statement. One document with the current year’s revenues and costs. IFPD has not distributed a financial statement since September. None was available at or after either the October or November meetings. And none is included in the board package for the December meeting.
Perhaps, by the time you read this column, my concern for a current financial statement will be satisfied. Without a complete financial statement, the public only has a brief glimpse of the district’s condition. The district’s finances appear to be worsening, not improving, and the past stewards seemed to be oblivious of the disintegrating situation.
Let me put this in perspective. In September, former Commissioner Ben Killingsworth acknowledged that the district was in financially rough waters and recommended a request for help from Riverside County — an advance on its December and January property taxes and assessments.
Despite Killingsworth’s perspicacity, he resigned when his colleagues increased the amount of the request from $350,000 to $450,000, which was received in October.
During the period, Chief Norm Walker and Commissioner Pete Capparelli, who was commission president at the time, were absent. When they returned, they supported the loan request, but said it was normal operations.
One district official predicted the December cash balance would be about $250,000 without relying on any loan proceeds.
As of Nov. 30, the IFPD checking account balance was $425,450.20, including the loan proceeds. If the district, hadn’t overreacted and hadn’t increated its request, what would the balance be? Negative $24,000!
The November CalPERS payment of about $20,000 has to be paid from this balance.
Yet the balance would be worse if the commission hadn’t agreed to cash its $125,000 certificate of deposit, which was for personnel benefits.
Sometime before July 1, 2012, the $450,000 has to be repaid. If it’s from the winter receipts, can IFPD get to May if salary and benefits average about $100,000 monthly? If repayment is from the May receipts, will they be able to get to next December without another loan?
For Christmas, the commission needs a financial plan for readjusting expenses to match income. They need a plan to address how and when additional revenue might be approved and received.
Hemet Unified School District may provide a model for IFPD. It can budget for the current year and project it out three years. Consequently, the staff alerted the board to potential loss of reserves over the next two years.
Perhaps Buchanan’s former school district experience will help IFPD regain ballast. For example, he might explain how budgeting anticipates future costs, such as a promotion following a year of paramedic training.
While I hate to channel Scrooge, IFPD firefighters may be the only ones who don’t have to pay their share of retirement.
The IFPD commission is in my prayers and New Year’s wishers.