A possible tax increase is now several years in the future, according to the discussion at last week’s Idyllwild Fire Protection District Finance Committee.

Susan Weisbart and Committee Chair Nancy Layton said their Tax Measure Research subcommittee would need at least a year to investigate and prepare the justification for a possible tax increase.

Consequently, the earliest a measure could be presented to IFPD voters would be August 2016 and possibly the November Presidential Election in November 2016. If taxpayers approve an increase, the earliest it would appear on tax bills would be December 2016 (if approved in August), but more likely not until the December 2017 bills, which would be fiscal 2017-18, nearly three years into the future.

Part of the subcommittee’s work over the next year will be developing a strategic plan for the agency, which would include a capital improvement plan for the future, Weisbart said.

“I realize that to move forward with a review for parcel-fee adjustment, we must recommend to the commission several projects for the coming year,” Weisbart said. “We need to do our homework over the next nine months. It would be irresponsible to not do our homework.”

These projects include a historical review of property taxes, a review of expenses and beginning work on a strategic plan.

Layton said the strategic plan doesn’t need to be completed before preparing the tax measure, but “we need to honor the commitment to constituents to a strategic plan.”

While a capital improvement plan will be developed, Layton stressed that the committee and commission were “committed to restoration of the [staff] pay cuts …,” negotiated in 2012.

In order to achieve this goal, Layton stated, “We have to raise revenue overall to improve the financial management of the district.”

For the current fiscal year, the IFPD budget through the end of March showed expenses were about $215,000 more than revenue. Slightly less than half of this deficit is attributable to the purchase of two ambulances in February for $98,000.

But Layton was optimistic that the current April revenues and expected May property tax receipts would turn the 2014-15 budget positive. Future budgets will benefit from the ending of the ambulance service to Pine Cove and beyond, according to committee member Calvin Gogerty, but Layton agreed that the contract with Riverside County for this service contributed to IFPD’s past losses.

The Subcommittee on Refinancing reported that the preliminary investigation for a loan package needed more time. Besides the cost of the two ambulances, the subcommittee was going to consider refinancing the existing loans on the engine and brush truck. However, Gogerty told his colleagues that these loans would be paid off within two years; thus, not a good target for refinancing.

The other two items — replacing the apron outside the engine bay and buying additional protective equipment — might cost about $50,000. He agreed to pursue these questions for the next meeting.

The committee agreed to move its meeting date from the third Tuesday of the month to the third Wednesday at 2 p.m. The next meeting is May 20. But Layton said if the fire chief has a preliminary 2015-16 budget ready in early May, she might schedule a special meeting before May 20.