I’m going to use three words — Community Service District — dreaded on the Hill.
While I am not advocating a rush to this form of California government, the latest Idyllwild Fire debacle concerns me.
If it weren’t about our tax dollars, these cascading errors or mistakes might be funny. Similar to Jimmy Breslin’s “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” the fire department, regardless of the commission members, can’t watch its pennies.
First we had five years of no or slow audits, then a report that checks written for the retirement account deposits were not mailed, although the funds were deducted. Now, Commissioner Jerry Buchanan has discovered a $100,000 overpayment to staff, which none of them noticed.
A CSD is an independent special district that can provide any of 20 or more civic functions such as fire, water, police, cemetery for example. It also has independent taxing authority.
If Idyllwild had a CSD, which provided fire, water and recreational services, we could abolish County Service Area 36, Idyllwild and Fern Valley water and the Idyllwild Fire districts.
With one board and a financial staff that had the talent to oversee a multimillion dollar budget, these financial transgressions might not happen.
While the IFPD board has a fiduciary responsibility to its constituents, none of the members was elected to perform the district’s financial work.
IWD has a financial officer, Pine Cove and Fern Valley districts have staff responsible for this function and the CSAs have county staff supplying administrative support.
None turns the work over to board members, except the fire district, which has the largest staff of the five special districts.
A more efficient CSD would include Pine Cove, but these local residents receive fire service from the county. However, IFPD does provide ambulance service to our northern neighbors for about $120,000 annually. If they would accede to this idea, perhaps a Pine Covian could sit on the board and help mitigate their concerns about how their money is spent.
Further, all the Hill neighborhoods benefit from the recreational services at the school and through CSA 36 — another reason to consider consolidation.
Yes, each of the three jurisdictions have special pride over their water districts, but perhaps the 21st century is time to consider a more efficient and modern approach. One, which is similar to our attitude toward volunteerism and festivals, where residents from all over the Hill participate without regard for their water district’s name.
The question is why do these financial mistakes continue to occur at IFPD. The commission has an oversight role and has with time (sometimes years) discovered or uncovered the errors. But the problem is an operational issue.
A year ago, former acting Chief Mike Sherman told me that in the previous year, IFPD was like an airplane headed toward the ground, falling fast. “But now we’ve pulled up and are the only district in the county starting to return to the clouds,” he said proudly.
The water districts and local CSAs with smaller budgets don’t manifest these continuing misfunctions. So I’m suggesting we find a way to curb some of IFPD’s independence while augmenting its staffing.
I’m sure many will have good reasons to oppose the suggestion. Fine. I’m not married to it, but let’s collectively, as we do for festivals or playgrounds, find a solution that is efficient and effective
Another future error of this magnitude could doom the district.
Perhaps Commissioner Schelly’s recommendation to conduct a long-range plan is timely and an opportunity to explore options.