Financial issues and problems continue to dominate and to plague the Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s commission meetings.
The commission unanimously authorized Chief Patrick Reitz to negotiate a financial services contract with Robert Dennis, a Rancho Cucamonga certified public accountant.
The idea to seek full-service financial assistance surfaced after the district discovered its on-going double payment for firefighter healthcare.
Only three entities responded to the district’s recent request for proposals to provide these services. After a review, Commissioner Jerry Buchanan and Reitz narrowed the selection to Dennis and a Murrieta firm, Nigro and Nigro, of several dozen accountants. They recommended the commission accept Dennis’s proposal that costs $13,000 this year (2013-14), increases $700 next fiscal year and again in 2015-16.
“Both responses were willing to train and work with existing staff,” Buchanan said. “And both thought that after they got a good handle on the books we might be able to reduce our audit costs.”
Reitz and Buchanan expect Dennis to begin working with the district this month.
After a closed session during the July 9 meeting, Chief Reitz announced a partial settlement with Idyllwild firefighters on the overpayment of healthcare.
However, the settlement revealed another ongoing financial problem involving firefighter overtime. According to Reitz, the extra healthcare payments have cost the district about $75,000 to six firefighters.
The underpayment of overtime amounts to nearly $60,000 and involves nine firefighters, and goes back to 2009. Reitz said the Idyllwild Career Firefighters Association had “brought the issue forward prior to my tenure,” but no correction has been made. The ICFA originally made its concerns known in early 2012, according to Reitz.
“The district’s [agreement] with the firefighters, and interpretation of Fair Labor Standards Act, required overtime to be paid on other items in addition to pay. These included stipends and health insurance,” Reitz wrote in an email.
Since each firefighter was affected differently, the district and ICFA decided to negotiate settlements individually rather than in one collective agreement.
As of July 9, the district had reached agreement with seven of the nine individuals. Four of them are owed amounts ranging from $1,779 to $7,535. The district has agreed to pay these amounts to firefighters in monthly payments over four years.
Five other firefighters actually owe the district amounts ranging from $3,353 to $9,867. Agreements have been reached with three, who will return the extra money over a four-year period. Agreements with the two owing the district the most have not been reached.
According to Reitz, negotiations are continuing and the district hopes to quickly settle the matter. If a firefighter were to leave IFPD, Reitz said he would still be obligated to continue the repayment.
“The department and career guys are glad this is behind us and resolved so we can move forward,” ICFA President Capt. James Reyes said.
Going forward, Reitz said, “Mistakes were made throughout the process and over a period of many years ... The district is committed to better use of professionals to guide us in future decisions,” Reitz declared. “Those items are now reviewed as a whole which should prevent further problems.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner Pete Capparelli requested his colleagues reconsider the policy of limiting public comment and questions before action items are discussed. Public input during the commission’s discussion of an agenda item would not be accepted.
“[The public] may not know what we’ll do or think about an issue,” Capparelli said. “The issues are important to Idyllwild people and our friends and neighbors. The only time there is a problem is when something is a burning issue, like the $300 [ambulance fee difference].
“Normally we don’t have that. If it becomes unruly or a distraction, we can revisit [the policy] at the end of the year. Let’s go back to the old way,” he urged his colleagues.
The commission agreed to a return to the expanded opportunity to hear public comments or questions, with the admonition to maintain public civility and decorum.