While not unusually long, the May 24 session of the Idyllwild Fire commission was busy. Not only did the commissioners approve the district’s creating a joint fire authority with San Jacinto City, they enacted resolutions to raise their ambulance service rates, to authorize collection of the current (not the proposed) parcel or unit fee and to request an advance of property-tax receipts before the county distributes them in December. Also, the commission approved a new memorandum of understanding with the career firefighters.
The commission unanimously authorized Fire Chief Patrick Reitz to proceed with the preliminary efforts to establish the Idyllwild-San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority, whose purpose will be serving as the San Jacinto Fire Department.
The San Jacinto City Council must approve its participation before the two boards can meet jointly to approve the operating rules and regulations for the JPA. According to City Manager Tim Hults, the JPA will be on the council’s agenda for its June 7 meeting.
Since the city contract with Riverside County for fire services expires June 30, the goal is to create the authority, hire staff, and be ready to provide fire and emergency medical services to the city’s residents on July 1.
Reitz and Idyllwild Battalion Chief Mark LaMont will be the senior staff for the JPA and a portion of their salaries and that of an administrative assistant will be included in the JPA’s budget. The preliminary estimates, depending on final decisions after the two boards begin to meet, are that Idyllwild will receive reimbursements for about $160,000.
In response to a question about shared costs, Reitz replied, “No money is going off the Hill. We’re not responsible for any of their debt or Cal PERS [retirement].”
The commission also approved a new MOU with the Idyllwild Career Firefighters. The previous MOU expired June 30, 2015, and included the 7-percent base pay reduction announced in February 2012. Special pay incentives such as holiday, longevity, paramedic license and cost of living increases were untouched.
“The reason it has taken so long is not because we’re at odds with one another,” Reitz said. “Both sides needed legal clarifications. There was nothing acrimonious nor adversarial in the negotiations.”
This MOU is for five years and expires June 30, 2021. Base salaries will increase 2.33 percent this July 1 and annually on July 1, 2017 and 2018. On July 1, 2019 and 2020, firefighters will receive a 2-percent salary boost, as well as on June 30, 2021, the contract expiration date. These increases are in addition to the other specific pay adjustments.
One new clause is the requirement that new employees must live within 50 miles of the district, Board President Jerry Buchanan reported. “We can’t require that they live in Idyllwild or Riverside County.”
Fees for ambulance service will increase again this year. This is the sixth-consecutive annual rate increase and took effect June 1. Since 2010, transport in an advance life support vehicle (IFPD’s ambulances) will be $1,475 plus a $35 per-mile charge. This is a 5.4-percent increase from last year and 65 percent growth since 2010.
Reitz told the board that each item was increased about 5 percent over the 2015-16 level.
The commission also discussed the level of its request for an advance of its property tax receipts from the county. Between June and early December, the primary revenue the district collects is its ambulance fees. Property taxes from the county begin to arrive in December and January, which creates a significant cash-flow problem for IFPD.
“Our highest expenses are in our low-income months,” lamented Commissioner Nancy Layton. “There is usually a significant bump in salaries because of campaign fires during the late summer and I don’t know what the legal fees will be.”
In support, Buchanan added, “We don’t want to worry about payroll in December or January.”
The commission unanimously agreed to request a $400,000 advance of its property taxes. That is a $50,000 increase compared to last year’s $350,000 advance.
After the May property receipts were received, the bank balance is nearly $600,000, reported Layton, also chair of the finance committee. However, through the end of April, expenses for 2016 had exceeded revenue budget by about $318,000.
Buchanan noted, “The PERS contribution is over budget because they’re making changes. Also, attorney fees continue to escalate [currently more than $100,000] and the biggest share is for litigation with Mr. Reyes.”
The commission also approved a resolution establishing the unit (commonly known as the parcel) fee at $65 for fiscal year 2016-17. This is necessary for the county Assessor’s Office to put the fee on Idyllwild property tax bills.
The 2016-17 budget was briefly discussed and will be on the commission’s June agenda for approval. At this point, the draft budget does not assume any additional revenue from either a unit fee increase or the JPA with San Jacinto.
The subcommittee drafting language to increase the unit fee from $65 to $156 did not meet this month, according to Reitz. He expects to have the proposed language available for the commission’s review at the June meeting.