By Marshall Smith
Staff Reporter

The Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners met in regular session with new commissioner Henry Sawicki attending. All commissioners were present, as were Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and Administrative Assistant Rachel Teeguarden.

In significant action items, the board voted unanimously to:

• approve financials. With a fiscal-year budget of $2,037,100 and remaining revenues of $581,563, the district had 28.55 percent of its projected budget left for the balance of the year. With projected expenditures of $2,030,483 and actual spending as of Jan. 31, at $1,205,317, the district had spent 40.64 percent of its budget. Accrued receivables as of Jan. 31 were $480,181 of which about $289,000 was for ambulance and $227,000 for mutual aid. The IFPD fiscal year ends June 30.

• approve fire and ambulance responses for January of which there were 65 incidents, 43 medical responses, 27 transports, nine hazardous conditions, six public service, two false alarms and three special incidents. Year-to-date emergency medical services responses have accounted for 75 percent of the district’s responses, with fires at 3 percent and false alarms at 5 percent.

In Reitz’s report, he noted that the majority of false alarms came from Idyllwild Arts.

• voted to leave meetings on their current monthly schedule at I p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month.

• and voted unanimously, on Reitz’s recommendation, to extend the current audit-service contract for one year with an option for a second, for a total of five, after which the district would go out for bid. Sawicki asked, noting public interest over district finances, whether renewing the contract was in the district’s best interest. “Especially with the interest of the newspaper [Town Crier], are we spending our money the best way we can?” he queried. “What is the downside to putting out an RFP [request for proposal]?”

Discussion followed with Reitz explaining that it takes time for an auditing firm to become familiar with district operations, especially one with such a high level of ambulance responses. “Using an audit firm for 20 years would have the appearance of rubber stamping,” said Reitz. Reitz noted that if an RFP was put out, the current auditor might not bid and the likelihood of saving money with an RFP would be minimal.

Commissioner Jerry Buchanan said he’d be comfortable with the proposed extension and noted procedures, such as requesting a different supervising partner, as ways of keeping fresh eyes on the books. “Partners all come in with a different eye,” said Buchanan. “Look at the price [for the extension] that comes back.”

In reports at the top of the meeting, Reitz discussed current pay procedures and comparables. Sawicki questioned if IFPD pay is based on parity with other agencies. Reitz explained, “When career firefighters come to the table, they bring comparables. We generally look at mountaintop agencies, such as in San Bernardino County, for the most pertinent comparables. The board has the option to accept or reject them. Currently, we are 40 percent below the average of [comparable agency] pay in Riverside County.”

Reitz said he met with utility reps, including from Southern California Edison, regarding outages. “We were not notified [by Edison] of a failing of the system when there was a 72-hour outage in some areas of Idyllwild and the need for a warming center,” said Reitz. “I think it’s our responsibility to make that happen.”

Commissioner Jeannine Charles-Stigall noted that because of the outage, she was without oxygen for an extended period, even though she had registered her address with Edison. “They [Edison] should have arranged a generator or transportation,” said Reitz. “Resident medical needs need to be registered with Edison and you become a priority for [power] restoration. We need to know of these outages. I’m very passionate about this. We need to take care of our people.”

In other business, under the guidance of Buchanan, the board voted to streamline several current practices, including job description of the board treasurer and Policy 4061, and the standing finance committee mission, structure and operations — including the definition of a quorum as “any three members and must include one commissioner” and that the “board may appoint up to three [3] community members to serve on the [finance] committee” to be reviewed on an annual basis at the regular board meeting in December.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board is at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the IFPD meeting room.