The finance committee of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District is still grappling with how big a tax measure should be and the source of the new funding.

At its meeting last week, the committee discussed two separate revenue sources and committee alternate member Mark Lonsbury and Fire Capt. Mark LaMont discussed the cost and needed revenues to finance three initiatives.

In their example, firefighters would receive a 9-percent raise, another $60,000 would be available to fund another unspecified new position, and the capital improvement program (whose total cost is $852,000) would be funded over a period of several years.

The estimated cost would be about $330,000, which Lonsbury said is about 150 percent of the current parcel fee revenue of $212,000 annually. If the parcel fee were the source of the added revenue, it would more than double the current rate of $65 per unit to about $162.50 per unit, according to LaMont.

However, he said another funding option was the “fire structure tax” which comes from the county’s property tax assessment. This source would grow or shrink as the county’s assessments change, he stressed. But unlike the parcel fee, which is a fixed amount, it would increase during good times.

However, committee members identified several other issues they believed should be included in the funding package. Sue Weisbart called their attention to the district’s unfunded liabilities for both retirement and other post-employment benefits.

The retirement unfunded liability, according to the auditor, is nearly $2 million. In a report last February, the consultant advised the commission that the unfunded liability for the post-employment benefits is about $650,000

Fire Chief Patrick Reitz responded that the unfunded liabilities were long-term debt. The annual payment to CalPers is already included in future budgets. However, he agreed that paying it down sooner would reduce the interest.

He also stated that CalPers has been changing the amounts regularly and the district does not have a specific figure yet.

“Well, it would be irresponsible of the committee not to take it into account,” Weisbart opined.

Deferred maintenance was another issue that both committee member Calvin Gogerty and Weisbart want addressed going forward. A specific example is the concrete apron in front of the bay, which is eroding.

The committee decided to hold another special meeting Thursday, March 31, to further discuss and refine the measure. Its goal is to provide a recommendation to the fire commission for its April meeting.

In other action, the committee approved the proposed policy defining its responsibilities and procedures. This will be presented to the commission at its March 22 meeting.

Weisbart also expressed dismay that the budget reports are not consistent with the budget approved last summer. “The finance committee doesn’t know if its questions and recommendations are being done or fixed,” she stated. Then she urged for some sort of feedback from the financial consultant when these are sent to him.

Committee Chair Nancy Layton responded that the chief would provide that information to the committee in the future.

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