Ambulance and emergency medical service rates will increase in the Idyllwild Fire Protection District beginning July 1. At its May 26 meeting, IFPD commissioners unanimously approved a nearly 25-percent increase in the cost of an ambulance transport. In addition, the per-mile cost will spurt 18 percent.

Fire Chief Patrick Reitz estimated that all of the EMS rate increases will boost the district’s revenues about $105,000 above the expected levels. These additional funds will enable him to fill two engineer positions and a firefighter position full-time and avoid reducing the weekly hours of his administrative assistant, he told the commission.

These positions are currently being filled with limited-term appointments, which can affect morale, but does not diminish delivery of services, he said. But Reitz would like to make permanent selections rather than rely on rotating interim staff.

Without the rate increase, Reitz expects revenues to fall about $240,000 due to the ending of the contract with Riverside County for the provision of ambulance service to County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) and beyond, and the lost transport revenue from the eliminated calls.

Under the ambulance contract, Riverside County had to approve IFPD’s ambulance rates. With the contract’s expiration on June 30, the new rates are effective, Reitz said. “The county doesn’t have much say for our district,” he said. “[It] has held our numbers down compared to other providers in Southern California.”

In response to Commission President Jerry Buchanan’s question about differential rates for patients who live outside of IFPD, Reitz replied than a non-resident fee of $285 is included in the resolution.

Finance Committee Chair Nancy Layton also told the board that the committee feels very strongly about raising the salary level. “This would restore them to the 2012 levels,” she said.

The preliminary 2015-16 budget approval will be on the commission’s June agenda, promised Buchanan. The proposed budget level is $1.7 million with an estimated $3,800 balance. The current-year approved budget totals $1.85 million and the district’s Finance Committee expects a $19,000 surplus.

Future revenue sources
Reitz is investigating IFPD providing an inter-facility ambulance service (hospital to hospital) sometime next year. The rate-increase resolution included a $1,235 charge for this service.

When asked why a resolution isn’t proposed to place one of the older ambulances in surplus, Reitz replied, “I want to hold off on surplus because I have and idea of a business plan for use of an ambulance by the district.”

The possible plan will be submitted to the commission for review and approval and, “It will be a self-sustaining program,” Reitz stated.

In addition, Reitz told the commission that some residents question the need to pay for EMS since a portion of local property taxes and a separate parcel fees go to IFPD.

These revenues pay for the fixed costs to ensure that staff and equipment are available in case an emergency occurs; they do not pay for the time and supplies to serve the individual in need, Reitz explained to the commission.

Reitz acknowledged that some fire “… districts do not charge for any service. We need to hear from the public [whether] they want to pay taxes so we never need to charge for this service or only charge those who use the service.”

The Finance Committee will explore the options that might eliminate the need to charge directly for ambulance service.

In her report, Layton stated, that the district’s staff “… work under adverse conditions, underpaid, when compared to other departments in virtually any area of California or other states.” She then recommended that the Finance Committee begin the strategic planning process because “it is the first critical step … preparing for a new tax measure in 2016.”

Current budget
Treasurer Layton told her colleagues that the 2014-15 fiscal year budget, which ends June 30, currently has a $270,000 deficit. However, IFPD received its property tax receipts of about $380,000 and the final $43,000 payment for the ambulance contract. This revenue, with the ambulance transport revenue, should reverse the red ink by the end of the fiscal year, she expects.

Also, $89,000 of the deficit is the cost of the two ambulances purchased in February, which the Finance Committee is attempting to re-finance with a loan.

Reitz announced that one of the new ambulances had been in a collision while transporting a patient. The damage was severe enough to the vehicle’s body that it must be taken to a shop in Anaheim for repair.

However, one of the older ambulances is still available for operation so the district’s ability to respond to emergency medical calls has not been diminished, he assured the commission.

The commission approved a new resolution changing its Budget Committee, established in November 2013, to a Finance Committee, which officially expands its oversight.

“The [resolution] brings the board’s recognition more firmly in line with what we’re doing,” Layton stated. “It also better defines our boundaries.”

The commission unanimously appointed Jon Engel as the alternate citizen member of the Finance Committee. Layton said another candidate expressed interest in the position, but had withdrawn from consideration. The position has been vacant since Calvin Gogerty was appointed as member of the committee in February. He had previously been the alternate.