After a Sept. 10 presentation in which Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz addressed and tried to rebuff many of the issues in the recent ad campaign directed against the district during the election for commissioners, the department’s 2013-14 budget was unanimously approved.

Reitz, however, did say that after the escrow for the sale of the communication tower closes, he will have several adjustments to make for revenue projections. For example, the annual lease amount will end, but the one-time sales amount will be recorded as capital.

Total revenues, before the cell tower transaction is recorded, are projected to be $1,691,655, about $4,500 less than the estimated 2012-13 revenues. While property tax collections are expected to fall about $18,000, mostly from an estimated drop of $10,000 for the special district assessment, the district has projected that reimbursements from mutual aid assignments will grow nearly $40,000 next year.

Reitz told the commission he expects the total expenses to fall about $117,000 next year, resulting in a $20,000 balance at the end of the year. The decline in expenditures is the result of savings in the Salary and Benefits account, while the increase in administrative costs is offset by operating cost decreases.

Several situations account for these payroll reductions. Capt. Mike Mulhall retired in 2012-13 and a ninth career employee has not been hired to fill the full career contingent. An acting captain has been appointed and lower positions also filled with acting staff.

Consequently, the actual salary line item is less, as well as retirement and health benefits, which fell considerably, nearly $87,700.

Administrative costs, such as legal fees and insurance, fall nearly $30,000. Workers compensation and property insurance decline about this amount and may be attributable to payments made in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Funding for emergency medical service education, licenses and a coordinator increase about $10,000 this year.

Other operating costs increase about $28,000 and are largely for mobile data computers, fuel costs and mutual aid expenses.

During his presentation, Reitz compared the cost of IFPD to various other fire departments in Riverside County, including IFPD salary and benefits, and emphasized the value of a public agency established at a local level rather than a county operation.

Prior to the budget discussion and hearing, Commissioner Jerry Buchanan reported on his conversation with agency counsel Brad Neufeld regarding uniformed staff attending public or political meetings.

It is entirely legal for uniformed staff to attend public meetings, including the department’s session, he reported. The attendance at overt political functions would be a problem, but Buchanan stressed that the recent Candidates’ Forum prior to the election for commissioners was organized by the Town Crier and involved all candidates, not a rally for one or a team.

Reitz also responded to some community concern about background checks of staff and volunteers. “I will tell you we do background of all [emergency medical technicians] by state law,” he reported. However, the confusing language in the Memorandum of Understanding with Volunteer Company 621 will be addressed in the future, he promised.

IFPD calls special meeting

The Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners has called a special meeting for 1:30 p.m. this Friday at the fire station to discuss the sale of the the cell tower lease to SBA Communications Corporation.

This is an open public meeting.

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