For the past several years, the Idyllwild Fire District has engaged in deficit spending. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the loss was estimated to be more than $400,000. For the next year, the loss diminished.

Within 12 months, its net assets were a negative $57,000 compared to nearly $645,000 on June 30, 2010.

Part of the revision is because IFPD is acknowledging a long-term debt to CalPERS of about $450,000 — a new liability.

In 2004, the net assets were nearly $2 million. In perspective, Pine Cove Water District, which is smaller than IFPD, has net assets approaching $2.9 million.

IFPD is not alone in this quandary many local jurisdictions and even the state are suffering since the economy sank in 2009. Some, such as the cities of San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes, are in bankruptcy, a worse condition.

Yet our local fire department has been arguing that its situation is improving, despite the surprising CalPERS debt. Nevertheless, its checking account is less than $15,000 and without an advance of its December property taxes, local firefighters will miss an October paycheck.

New Fire Chief Patrick Reitz assured the district commission that the county would put the advance (IFPD disdains the term loan, although they do pay an interest charge until the funds are repaid) on the Sept. 25 Riverside County Board of Supervisor’s agenda. County finance officials have assured Reitz that the money will be in Idyllwild’s coffers within days.

I give this scenario a 99 percent probability of actually happening, but unless we should suddenly disbelieve all the warnings of potential southern serious earthquakes or the likelihood of another series of fall fires, there is some chance that this plan will be disrupted.

What’s the contingency then?

The economy’s condition is independent of the commission’s actions. So we have no reason to blame them for the near depression, recession or diminished tax receipts.

But they do have fiduciary responsibility to the Idyllwild residents. One reason the deficit exists is the contract former commissions signed with the career firefighters. Perhaps there once was sufficient tax revenue to pay the salaries and benefits, but not today.

But the commission seems paralyzed, unable to take any actions. Yes, in February, they announced that the firefighters had voluntarily taken a seven percent pay cut. But this action raises two questions.

First, why was it voluntary? Shouldn’t the commission have demanded it? Second, the seven percent cut was not net take home pay. The commission continued to provide a 3.1 percent increase and other safety net payments, which came close to negating the seven percent. Why obfuscate the action?

The new contract already will increase personnel expenses an additional $20,000 starting July 1, 2013. What’s the source of money for those benefits?

The state is trying to reconcile its deficit and give local jurisdictions tools to help them alleviate the problem. None of us wants a bankrupt fire department. On Aug. 31, the legislature passed “pension reform” legislation.

One of the changes requires employees who pay into CalPERS to now pay the full employee share of the annual retirement cost. For years, IFPD employees paid nothing. Recently they agreed to pay two percent of the nine percent cost.

The commission says it has no plans to raise this issue with the employees. But is it fair to taxpayers to continue to see our assets erode to cover budget deficits or fair to future employees to pay the CalPERS debt due current employees?

The consequence of the federal deficit will fall on the shoulders of future generations, but the fire commission can rebalance this local injustice.

At the last commission meeting, one of the firefighters asked the commission’s plans for raising more revenue. The commission had no answer and Chief Reitz says he has a secret proposal which he’ll share some day.

Measure G, a doubling of the district’s parcel fee, failed only 13 months ago, so ask yourself where the new revenue is coming from?

And before you plan to use additional revenue for fire station refurbishments, which former Chief Walker frequently discussed, remember, beginning this year, government audits are suppose to identify the future costs of employee healthcare.


  1. i cannot say it enough,JEFF SMITH IS AN IDIOT,i am sorry but this man knows nothing about fire,medical or being a professional human being in any way.The fire dept guys are really wonderful folks and very helpful to all our mountain communities.We are all tired of reading your dribble anytime anything is written about the dept.No nothing that comes from off the hill will ever be free.Your families will suffer and most likely not make it if an accident sadly comes about.I do not feel waiting an hour or more for anyone down the hill to make up here after a call,much less to find your house on dark roads they do not know,just to try to put out a fire or take you to hospital,your house is burned to the ground and your family is dead.Oh yeah and you still will have to pay all kinds of taxes for them.Your a no brainer,and your trying over and over to get the mountain to buy into your way of thinking is very DANGEROUS.If you really care as you pretend to do, about the people up here,then you should try harder to help.To have put the "G" on the yes vote.Try helping in apositive way instead of trying to making our families and homes smaller by being gone.

    • Don't fall for the fear tactic of "waiting an hour or more for anyone down the hill to make it up here", or "your house will burn to the ground and your family is dead"…name one structure fire that IFPD handled in the last 10 years that was ever considered a "save" besides just saving a foundation or making work for a demolition company.

      This fear tactic is all propaganda created by IFPD making the unknowing citizens of Idyllwild think without their beloved fire department the world will end.

      When you call 911, does it matter what the insignia on the door for the fire engine, the color of the engine, or what the patch on the uniform says? No; as-long-as the service is provided is what matters; and at what taxpayer cost.