The Idyllwild fire Protection District Finance Committee is going to explore the options for placing a parcel fee increase on the ballot this fall. Committee Chair, Commissioner Nancy Layton appointed an ad hoc committee of herself and committee member Sue Weisbart to review the options for generating additional income, including a parcel fee increase, which would go before the voters in November for approval.
“This is near and dear to my heart,” Layton said. “I’ve been advocating for it before becoming a commissioner. I’m passionate about this.”
With the impending cessation of the contract with Riverside County to provide ambulance service to Pine Cove and north and south of the fire district, the finance committee is looking for other alternatives to maintain its revenue base.
Besides the possibility of parcel fee increase, Layton shared that the fire department’s staff will investigate the requirements necessary to provide inter-facility ambulance transport throughout the county. Several private companies already provide the service of transporting patients between hospitals, from or to nursing facilities, and possibly home from the hospital.
These transports are considered basic life support and require fewer resources than an advanced life support transport, such as from an incident to a hospital. She thought that one of the existing ambulances could provide that service, while the two new vehicles remain on the Hill for emergency transports.
But additional revenues are not the sole options, Layton said. “President Jerry Buchanan and Chief [Patrick] Reitz said to look at every area where we can cut funding without affecting our service.”
Also she mentioned the possibility of selling several agency assets, such as the ladder truck. Besides the truck, Layton mentioned selling the other older ambulance as well as an old engine.
While the loss of the contract and concomitant transports might reduce annual revenues about $250,000, IFPD currently collects about $210,000 annually from the current $65 fee. However, the committee did not discuss how much the district might raise the existing fee to replace those funds or augment revenues.
Another option, which the committee might investigate, is the possibility of seeking some revenue from the county’s transient occupancy tax, which is essentially a “sales” tax on inn or motel room rates. Weisbart thought this could be justified on the basis of the Department frequently having to care and transport tourists.
“They do comprise a significant piece of our unfunded [not reimbursed] transports,” Layton added.
She expects the subcommittee to have a report for the full finance committee meeting schedule for April 21 meeting and they may forward recommendations to the commission for its April 28 meeting. She hopes to include some research on how other special districts and fire districts finance their activities.
“There is more unknown than known at this point, which is the reason for the ad hoc committee,” Layton stated.
If the district proceeds with a ballot measure, the current plan is put on the November 2015 election. The terms for Commissioners Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo expire in December this year; consequently their seats will be on the August mail ballot. While voters can request a vote-by-mail ballot for the November election, they also may choose to vote at local precincts on Election Day, Nov. 3. Typically, the voter turnout is higher for November elections than August contests.
Layton confirmed that if a parcel measure were on the November ballot, the district would pay for two elections next fiscal year — commission seats and a revenue measure.
In 2011, the district proposed to double the fee and voters soundly rejected the idea. Two-thirds of voters in the election must support the tax increase, but four years ago, nearly 60 percent opposed the tax increase.
With this history, Weisbart stressed the need to employ an outside firm to help with a ballot measure campaign if it were needed.
J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].