Steve Kunkle. Photo courtesy of Steve Kunkle

Next month will be the mail-in ballot election for three seats on the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commission. Four candidates — Commission President Jeannine Charles-Stigall, Rhonda Andrewson, Steve Kunkle and Nancy Layton — are vying for three seats on the commission.

The Town Crier is interviewing each candidate and sponsoring a Candidate’s Forum in early August for the benefit of the district’s voters and the whole community.

This week, you read the interviews with candidates Steve Kunkle and Nancy Layton. The interview with Rhonda Andrewson was in the July 19 issue of the Town Crier.

TC: Do you believe IFPD has a financial problem?

SK: “Yes, obviously,” Steve Kunkle replied. “Even in my time [as fire chief from 2005 to February 2010], there was enough discretionary income.” However, if an emergency had occurred, Kunkle stressed that the department would have been “pressed to pay the bill.”

TC: The commission initiated discussions about the possibility of increasing its special parcel tax. Your opinion.

SK: Kunkle, as a private citizen now, was not fully committed to raising the parcel fee. But he agrees that the parcel fee alone is a bargain since it is less than the property assessment for the Idyllwild Transfer Station.

“It’s easier to get approval [of an increase] when times were good, but it will be a tough road now,” he opined.

TC: What’s the higher priority, new equipment (ambulance) or salaries?

SK: While Kunkle has been away from the Idyllwild Fire Department’s activities for several years, he recalled that salary and benefit costs consumed a large portion of the budget making it difficult to keep emergency equipment current.

He stressed that salaries were often 80 to 90 percent of the available budget and that was the typical range for most fire departments. It was not disproportionate.

“It wasn’t out of line to protect the community,” he said. ”But you need good working equipment.”

TC: What’s IFPD’s mission? Is a long-range plan needed?

SK: Kunkle is an advocate for public safety planning. During his tenure as chief, he had a long-range plan drafted. “It used to be called a Master Plan,” he noted. “Going out 10 years is good, especially if your financial situation is in flux. Five years is the general guideline.”

He related that 85 percent of most fire department work is for emergency medical services. “We need first-response units,” he emphasized. Fire and medical emergencies are 24-hour jobs for which the IFPD staff is prepared and cross-trained to handle both missions.

As he finished, Kunkle stressed his support for maintaining local control of the fire mission.