The current financial position for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District looks good and remains consistent with the district’s fiscal year 2017-18 budget adopted last summer.

The commission’s Finance Committee met Monday, Jan. 29, to review the November and December financial statements, conduct a mid-year review, discuss the capital improvement plan, and take a preliminary look at a possible fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

Although the salary and benefit accounts have expended more than half the allocation, this is the result of the unusual number of out-of-district (mutual-aid) fire calls to which the department has responded.

Battalion Chief Mark LaMont reported on 15 mutual-aid incidents, which involved more than 9,000 staff hours. But he emphasized that all of these costs are reimbursed by the lead agency, for example, Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service or the county where the fire occurs if it is not on state or federal lands.

“The fire incidents have increased dramatically,” LaMont said. “Hopefully, the fire season is behind us, but I’ve seen no significant recovery in the weather.”

Actual reimbursements can take 220 days to receive, the state advises, but Idyllwild’s average time between filing and a check has been 190 days, according to LaMont.

One major change to the current budget is to make the modification caused by this unexpected workload. The mutual-aid reimbursement total was increased $178,000 from the approved budget level of $312,000. The new revenue total will be $2.3 million.

In association with the revenue changes for mutual aid are the expenditure adjustments for salaries, overtime, benefits and other personnel-related items. Some of this effect, such as Workers’ Compensation, won’t occur until next fiscal year, he noted.

The other major changes to the current budget, of which the finance committee will advise the commission, include a reduction of $21,000 in the account for the settlement with former IFPD Capt. James Reyes. Most of the costs were included in the prior budget or absorbed by the insurance company.

Increases are needed for the emergency medical services coordinator ($13,500) and other equipment ($71,000). Most of the equipment increase was for a new administrative vehicle for LaMont. This is being financed with a bank note.

The EMS coordinator was hired in October 2016, but has been assisting with the county’s EMS requirements for IFPD. “We’ve been using her more,” LaMont said. This need was identified earlier in the fiscal year and held until the mid-year review.

Total expenditures were increased $157,000, from $2.1 million to $2.26 million. The project net income is now $40,000, an increase of $21,000.

The Capital Improvement Plan also was reviewed. It had been originally developed in 2015 in anticipation of the vote on Measure W. LaMont discussed the vehicle and equipment needs and how those have changed.

The top priority, in his opinion, is acquiring another brush engine. IFPD depends a lot on this equipment, not only in the district, but to get to the mutual-aid incidents. “This is used more than any other piece of equipment,” LaMont stated. A replacement is estimated to cost $350,000.

A second brush engine would benefit the district greatly, he added.

While a replacement ladder truck can be deferred several years, he advised that the chief’s vehicle would need to be replaced within the next two years.

The other capital needs were equipment such as breathing apparatus, turnout gear and cardiac monitors.

The budget issue will develop into finding the funding for the capital needs.

The discussion on the 2018-19 budget focused mainly on the effort to separate the revenue and costs by activity such as fire, ambulance and mutual aid.

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