At last Wednesday’s finance committee meeting, Idyllwild Fire Capt. Mark LaMont described the budget preparation process and how different assumptions affect the budget request.

In her introduction of LaMont, committee chair and Commissioner Nancy Layton said, “He is in the thick of it; officer development and the most cognizant of pay and payroll issues.”

Beginning the meeting was a discussion of the salary comparisons with several county cities such as Hemet, Palm Springs and Riverside. Committee member Sue Weisbart requested information on the salaries and budget for other mountain fire departments, such as Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County.

LaMont was also able to include data from the county Fire Department, too. He separated the county costs between resources allocated to service of the 17 contracts with cities for fire services and the rest of the department’s responsibilities, such as the unincorporated area, Ryan Airbase, conservation crews, the Office of Emergency Services, pre-fire resources (the staff at the Mountain Resources Center) and hazardous materials teams.

LaMont did present some per-capita costs and Idyllwild’s was high, about $367 per person, based on a population of 4,600 people. Hemet had the lowest per-capita cost at $115, followed by Cathedral City at about $140.

Committee member Calvin Gogerty thought the per-capita calculation was unfair for Idyllwild because of its much-high visitation population compared to the permanent residents at the other cities.

LaMont also presented some long-term projections of revenue and costs. Total expenses will grow from $1.7 million this fiscal year to $2.3 million in 2024-25. The proportion between the budget categories remained the same. For example, salaries are always 53 percent of the total, so that account grew from $911,000 to $1.2 million, a 33-percent increase in 10 years.

Revenues will grow from $1.7 million and a surplus of $35,000 this fiscal year to $2.3 million in 2024-25 and a $6,500 surplus. But the projection indicates that revenues will exceed expenditures every year during this 10-year period, for a total surplus projection of $220,000.

LaMont also presented two salary alternatives. The first would restore the salary reduction negotiated in 2012. That would increase costs about $330,000, according to LaMont.

The second alternative would add a battalion chief to the district. The change in costs depends upon whether that position replaces a captain or if three crew captains are kept.

The capital improvement budget was discussed briefly but no specific projects were discussed. The preliminary capital budget Chief Patrick Reitz gave to the committee in February recommended a capital investment of about $850,000 over the next nine years. This included replacing two administrative vehicles, a brush engine and two ambulances.

The finance committee will meet again on March 16 and hopes to have a recommendation to the commission for its March 22 meeting.

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