The Idyllwild Fire Protection District Finance Committee decided to recommend a tax measure for the commission to review and approve.

The committee agreed that increasing the current unit fee from $65 to $156, a 140 percent increase is necessary. It also will propose language to ensure the fee increases annually based on a local economic indicator.

The measure will be worded to be a replacement of the current unit fee. If it is defeated at the polls, the current unit fee will remain in place, the committee noted.

“After reflecting on the work we have done, it is clear to everyone, we arrived at this by careful study of staff recommendations,” said Committee Member Mark Lonsbury as the committee began to formulate its recommendation. Capital improvements, a reserve and salary requirements were the three basic areas the committee wants to augment or fund.

While members recognize this increase will generate considerable revenue in the future, it also is recommending that IFPD cap its reserves at 10 percent of the annual operating budget. At the current budget, IFPD would have $190,000 in reserves for unanticipated events.

Through fiscal 2022-23, the increased fee will produce about $2.3 million in revenue. The committee intends that IFPD’s current Capital Improvement Plan, which identifies projects totaling $832,000 for the next 10 years, should be financed from the new revenue. The balance remaining would be for budget reserves, salaries and other new expenses.

The committee believes the capital program should be reviewed and possibly revised annually.

The proposed long-range budget, which Capt. Mark LaMont presented to the committee last month, projects 4-percent annual growth in salaries and benefits during this period.

After the salary raises and capital expenditures, IFPD would have $1.3 million to expend. Lonsbury noted that this was not the specific goal, although it is the outcome of the staff projections.

Some committee members felt the commission might lower the unit fee if these surpluses were to occur; however, Nancy Layton, committee chair and commissioner, was hesitant to see the fee reduced.

In other financial business, the committee briefly reviewed the past contract with accountant Rob Dennis and the request for proposal, which IFPD issued to solicit possible financial help.

In looking at the financial reports for March, several committee members were disappointed that past requests for information were not being provided. For example, Calvin Gogerty noted that the comparison between the current month’s expenditures to the same month a year ago was not available.

And Sue Weisbart stressed the reason for an extensive financial committee review of the financial reports is because, “The department needs to protect itself. We can’t blindly trust an account.”

The committee prefers to see staff do the major bookkeeping work rather than contract it out to the accountant as it is currently done.

“We could extend the hours of the current administrative assistant to this work and change the scope of the RFP,” Weisbart recommended. And Layton confirmed that the commission was in agreement to retain this function in-house.

The committee did defer any mid-year budget adjustments until its May meeting.

According to the reports available to the committee, IFPD’s expenses through three quarters of the fiscal year have exceeded its revenue by about $250,000, which is a $90,000 increase since the end of February. However, Layton was not sure these reports were complete.