IFPD convinces majority of need for more funds 

Almost from the beginning of 2016, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners invested significant energy and time in efforts to increase revenues. To the disappointment of the commissioners and Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, these efforts did not succeed. 

Going forward, IFPD will continue to have slight property tax revenue increases and growing emergency medical fees. However, the proposals to generate revenue growth greater than small increments were not successful.

The potential joint power authority with San Jacinto city was one project, although it was not conceived to be a major revenue generator. As early as its February meeting, the commission discussed plans to draft a measure to increase the $65 unit or parcel fee.

“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,” said President Jerry Buchanan.

The finance committee began studying the funding needs and amount of new revenue to seek. By the July meeting, the commission voted to place a measure on the November ballot.

The proposal would apply a $130 fee to all parcels, independent of development or size of structures. The current parcel assessment raises about $200,000 annually, according to the financial report. The proposed change was projected to yield annual revenue approaching $450,000. 

The original fee assessment was $32.50 and did not reach the $65 maximum level until 1993 and again in 2006 until now. 

In October, the commission held four public meetings to explain the measure’s purpose and answer questions about its impact.

Many different questions were raised during the meetings, including why did you wait so long since 1981 to raise the fee; do other fire departments use similar programs; and why is there an ambulance charge for the service in addition to the tax?

In response to an inquiry about what would happen if the measure failed, Reitz responded that the capital improvement projects of replacing the ladder truck, and acquiring a new pumper engine, among several projects, would be delayed or dropped.

While a significant majority of voters supported Measure W as a tax increase, its passage required “yes” from two-thirds of the votes. Only 56.7 percent cast “yes” ballots. 

“This shows we do have strong support in the community, but two-thirds is a tough nut to crack,” Buchanan said. 

The 2016 result was a significant improvement from the ignominious defeat of Measure G in 2010; nevertheless, the parcel increase was not approved.

Vic Scavarda

HUSD has new superintendent: Scavarda assumes board presidency

Christi Barrett became superintendent of the Hemet Unified School District on July 1. She replaced Dr. Barry Kayrell, who announced his retirement in January. Barrett’s selection was announced in May.

Kayrell had more than 40 years in the education profession. He began his tenure as HUSD superintendent on Oct. 1, 2012.

Barrett began her career in the classroom working with special-education students. She taught at the elementary level and moved into the principal’s role for a K-6 school with more than a 1,000 students and her next step was assistant superintendent for human relations.

During an interview with the Town Crier, Barrett acknowledged that the tenure of the past several HUSD superintendents has been two to three years. Her goal is to stay here longer, and see changes and improvements occur.

Already, she and her family, husband, son in high school and daughter in college have moved to Hemet.

“Hemet is the only superintendentship that I applied for,” Barrett stated. “Hemet is where I want to be. I’m very committed to the students and my career. I have a passion for the district and the community, and I intend to be here for the long-term.”

Barrett recognizes that Idyllwild, the Anza schools and Cottonwood share a similar problem. They are located in outlying areas far from the district’s core. 

“This can pose challenges, such as access to collaboration,” she noted. “They should not be different than any school in the district,” Barrett said and added, “I am aware of the expectation of the community here. We have to take into consideration that the level of community involvement is greater in Idyllwild. And we need to stay focused on the arts.

“smARTS is very representative of what the community values and what we will continue,” she said steadfastly.

In her July 1 introductory letter to parents, Barrett listed her goals for HUSD students, one of which was, “All 12th-grade students will be college and career ready when they graduate.”

She affirmed that not every student is expected to prepare for college. “Not all students are on the same trail,” she said. “College and career are different and we have to offer a variety of opportunities.” 

Also this year, in December, Idyllwild’s representative on the HUSD Board of Trustees — Vic Scavarda — became board president for the next year. He is a former teacher — 33 years, many at Idyllwild School — who retired in 2012.

“It is a bit of a shift to go from working in a small school to being involved with an entire district, but I find it interesting to be able to see the ‘big picture,’” he said. “It helps me appreciate all the talents and services that come together to make everything work.”

Local political forums were big draws and local hits

2016 was an election year. At the national level, we followed the scrabble between President-elect Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. At the state level, there were 17 propositions and a senatorial race. At the county level, Supervisor Chuck Washington held his seat. And locally, we watched the vote for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s parcel increase.

The Town Crier covered the local races and reported on the propositions, but went beyond simple ink and paper.

In October, we invited the two supervisorial candidates — Washington and Hemet’s Shellie Milne — to come to Idyllwild and answer questions from local voters.

Both accepted and on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 6, the Idyllwild Nature Center was filled with attentive Hill residents and the two competitors.

The questions covered a multitude of Hill issues ranging from the future of Town Hall, state fire fees and county fire costs, campaign financing, and Idyllwild as a community and tourist destination.

But several of the questions addressed the candidates’ thoughts about the future of the Idyllwild Water District and its two vacant director positions. While Milne said it was a community decision, Washington was firm in his intent to fill the vacancies, unless the current board took action.

Washington won the election to the 3rd District seat, to which Gov. Jerry Brown had appointed him in March 2015. 

Throughout the fall, IWD coasted without meetings September, October or November. The district was treading water and also functioning without a general manager. Consequently, filling the board became a community priority.

Shortly after the November election, it was clear Washington would make a recommendation unless the IWD board filled the seats. But the decision by Acting President John Cook requiring unanimous votes made it impossible. 

Again, in an effort to help constituents understand the issues and the potential new leadership, the Town Crier invited interested directors to meet the public. On Thursday, Nov. 10, four men — Geoffrey Caine, David Hunt, Dr. Charles Schelly and Vic Sirkin — accepted and spent 90 minutes answering public questions.

Town Hall was nearly filled with interested residents — even from outside the IWD district. Dozens of questions were asked and answered. These ranged from viewpoints on growth vs. no growth, meters, water rates and the proposed recycling project.

During the first week of December, Washington recommended and the county board of supervisors approved the appointment of Schelly and Sirkin to fill the IWD board. 

Idyllwild and San Jacinto created and dissolve fire authority in six months

One of the most significant surprises in 2016 was the creation of a joint powers authority between the Idyllwild Fire Protection District and the City of San Jacinto. The JPA would provide fire and emergency medical services to the city and IFPD would provide the management team.

The JPA would replace the city’s contract for service from the Riverside County Fire Department. City officials had grown concerned about the continuing cost increases and reduced service to the western portion of the city.

In May, the two entities officially announced they were studying the proposal. After the formal announcement, IFPD Fire Chief Patrick Reitz said, “This is a big deal, very big.”

At this point, Reitz said that neither agency had endorsed or approved the idea. These actions occurred at council and commission meetings in early June.

While the JPA was formally established, the city, which was responsible for funding the venture, did not authorize its implementation until adequate dispatch service would be available. As June 30 approached, the end of the city’s contract with Riverside County, the dispatch issue was not satisfactorily solved. 

Consequently, the city renewed its contract for another year and put implementation of the JPA on hold for 12 months, during which the plan was to secure an adequate dispatch service.

In August, a lawsuit was filed in the Riverside County Superior Court to validate establishment of the JPA and address the issue of whether the county’s Local Area Formation Committee should have been involved in the action.

This step, which initially seemed merely procedural, became a major stumbling block, which could not be avoided. By November, Local 2881, Riverside County and the City of Hemet all objected in court to the establishment of the JPA.

At its December meeting, San Jacinto’s City Council announced its intention to withdraw from the legal action.

Later that month, in a special meeting of the board for the Idyllwild San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority, both the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commissioners and the San Jacinto City Council unanimously (9-0) agreed to dissolve their joint power authority to provide fire and emergency services to the City.

Thus the simple procedural suit had become a major piece of litigation, which would be lengthy and therefore costly to bring to a successful conclusion, according to San Jacinto City Manager Tim Hults. It could take several years to resolve.

In addition, the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau concluded that “… a joint powers authority is a public agency … [and] must comply with the procedures set out … before entering into a fire protection contract.” This would require the county LAFC to review the new entity and how the fire services contract would affect other public agencies in the county.

So, almost as quickly as the idea surfaced during a casual conversation, according to Reitz, its demise followed before it even opened its doors.

Mike Cheley (top) and Chris Kramer (lower) erect a new sign at the Idyllwild Community Center site. Eventually, the status of the fundraising will be displayed on the sign. On the back of the signage is a map of the site’s future look.
Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Idyllwild Community Center receives county approval

Progress on the Idyllwild Community Center was achieved in 2016; however, the rate of progress was not what the project leaders were hoping or expecting.

When the year began, Riverside County was in the final stages of reviewing the project. The expectation of receiving approval for the conditional-use permit to begin constructing the first phase of the multi-year project seemed imminent. Plans were being formulated to close the site during the fall and this winter, after another summer season of the Idyllwild Concert Series.

However, as the year proceeded, the county’s review took longer, more information was requested and the timing of the expected approval was not going to happen in late spring or early summer.

September was the next target date, but as Labor Day arrived, the information the county needed appeared complete, but meeting dates kept moving. The November planning commission date was postponed until Dec. 7.

And then success happened. On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the planning commission unanimously approved the CUP for the ICC at the Butterfield Commons on Strawberry Creek. 

The name of the site was announced at a community meeting in April. Dave and Loie Butterfield have been extremely generous benefactors for the Idyllwild community. Not only were they donors of the property, but have given graciously to funding of Phase 1, which is the parking areas and amphitheater.

Initially, the project board thought it would be several years between completion of the first phase and commencement of Phase 2, which is the community center — meeting rooms, a large lobby and kitchen.

But another benefactor has helped spur the project. Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington has worked with the board to find funding for Phase 2. In December, his office announced a proposal to use $1.2 million of Community Development Block Grant funds to complete the construction of Phase 2. 

With the board of supervisors’ approval of this funding shift, planning for the second phase can be finished and construction will begin shortly after Phase 1 is completed.

ICC may be a reality within two or three years now.