The Idyllwild Fire commissioners have decided to draft a measure to raise the current $65 parcel fee. At their Tuesday, Feb. 23 meeting, commissioners discussed the purpose and needs for more revenue. They asked their Finance Committee, which Commissioner Nancy Layton chairs, to begin putting these general ideas and goals into specific language and justification. (See accompanying story on page 24.)
Commission President Jerry Buchanan opened the discussion with some of his thoughts about why IFPD needs more revenue and what questions should be asked and addressed when placing the measure before the taxpayers.
“This is a preliminary discussion. We can talk about some of our needs. For example, every budget [since I’ve been a commissioner] has been tighter. Staff has received no raises in five years and the building needs work and equipment needs,” he said, in summary.
“Do we need it? What do we need it for? And what are the preliminary cost estimates?” were the important questions Buchanan posed for the finance committee to address.
While salaries, capital improvement projects and equipment are the three principal areas which the committee will review and recommend increased funding, the commission generally endorsed the concept of a tax measure going before voters, likely this fall.
The tax measure would amend or repeal the existing parcel or unit fee that supplements the property tax revenue and ambulance fee collections. Currently, the parcel fee yields about $212,000 of the total projected income of $1.86 million.
Layton said, “As resident and taxpayer, I’m appalled at the low parcel fee collected to support this district.
“It’s partly the fault of the fire department not educating the public,” she stated. “Being on the board and finance committee, I’m aware of all the costs.”
Both Commissioner Larry Donahoo and Buchanan acknowledged that in 2011, when they ran for commissioners, both opposed Measure G, the last tax increase measure IFPD proposed. It was opposed by nearly 60 percent of the voters.
“Nobody said what it was to be used for. Nothing was broken down to what it could be applied for,” Buchanan said, explaining his opposition to it. “As a voter, if you can’t tell me how it’s used or say here’s a plan for the next five to 10 years, or how we’ll invest it when we have it, [I’m skeptical]. I want to see the need defined, not picked out of the air.”
In response to a question from finance committee member Sue Weisbart about the components and amount of the measure, Commissioner Rhonda Andrewson replied, “When you feel it and believe it, you’ll have it.”
In other financial business, Chief Patrick Reitz told the commission that IFPD had submitted several grant applications to purchase needed equipment, such as air compressors and support of the volunteers. The commission also authorized him to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development for a loan. Reitz stressed that it will be months before approval may be known and the commission could refuse the loan at that time, but the application had to be submitted by the end of March.
Buchanan reported that the labor negotiations committee has been meeting with the Idyllwild Career Firefighters Association and hoped to bring a new contract to the commission in March.
Weisbart also shared that the finance committee has been reviewing several budget accounts, such as vehicle repair and maintenance, CalPERS and legal services, that may need adjustment before the fiscal year ends.
“We’ll address these in our March or April meeting,” she added.
Reitz also reported that Medicare, Medicaid and some commercial insurers were no longer reimbursing IFPD for incidents that did not require transporting the patient to a hospital.
“This just started in January,” he reported. “It’s difficult to bill and get reimbursed for dry-runs [incidents that do not require transporting the patient]. This increases the expenses on the back of local taxpayers.”