The mail-in ballots for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commission election should begin arriving in Idyllwild mail boxes this week. Four candidates — Commission President Jeannine Charles-Stigall, Rhonda Andrewson, Steve Kunkle and Nancy Layton — are vying for three commission seats.
The Town Crier has interviewed each candidate and will sponsor a Candidate’s Forum 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Town Hall. The panel of candidates will speak to voters and be available for questions.
This week, we present an interview with Charles-Stigall. The interview with Andrewson was in the July 18 issue of the Town Crier and interviews with candidates Kunkle and Layton appeared in the July 25 edition.
TC: Do you believe IFPD has a financial problem?
JCS: “Yes, but it’s being addressed,” she replied. Referring to the nonpayment of overtime for firefighters and the overpayment for health insurance benefits for five fighters, Charles-Stigall stressed these matters are nearly closed.
“I’m not aware of any issue that has not been addressed,” she said.
Moving forward, Charles-Stigall said, the commission with Chief Patrick Reitz has created a system of checks and balances that should ensure that similar financial errors do not recur.
With the impending financial services contract, she stated, “For the first time, IFPD will have a government accounting system place. We should have had it a long time ago.”
TC: The commission initiated discussions about the possibility of increasing its special “parcel” tax. Your opinion?
JCS: “I do feel we need to increase the parcel fee,” Charles-Stigall stated. “We have ongoing [vehicle] fleet and personnel needs.”
While salary and benefit costs are about 75 percent of the district’s costs, this is consistent with many fire departments, she stressed. “But we need to maintain qualified personnel and keep the fleet in tip-top shape,” she added. “It’s quite a ride to the nearest hospital.”
Charles-Stigall also said the fire station has need of maintenance and other caretaking projects that have not occurred for a long time.
TC: What’s the higher priority — new equipment (ambulance) or salaries?
JCS: “It’s a toss-up,” she said. “If we have qualified personnel and don’t have equipment, we’re out of balance. If we have high-tech equipment, but not people to use it, we’re out of balance, too.”
TC: What’s IFPD’s mission? Is a long-range plan needed?
JCS: “I’d like to see both a short-term and long-range plan,” Charles-Stigall said. “This would enable the department to be more able to identify and prioritize the resources, which it will need in the future.
“When I think back to where we were four years ago, the department had lost a lot of reserves that were mismanaged by the previous commission and fire chief,” she said. “They left the new commission in 2009 the responsibility of paying off debt, getting out of the Zoll crisis and out of collections.
“It’s not the time to rest on these accomplishments, but we should reflect on the strength brought to the commission which accomplished quite a lot.”