During last week’s meeting, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s commissioners discussed a prospective parcel fee increase and the process for bringing it before voters later this year.

The commission reviewed a set of handouts and fliers that could be mailed to voters, explaining the current parcel fee, the need for the increase, and how much the cost of equipment and gear has increased since the fee was originally approved in 1981. 

“There is a slower response time, a second ambulance at a greater distance and more that residents could lose if this fails,” said President Jerry Buchanan. 

Assistant Chief Mark LaMont agreed, but cautioned, “How do we drive home the idea of this loss? Is it immediate? No! But it will occur eventually if we don’t increase revenues.” 

He also included the likely reduction in the Insurance Service Office fire rating from the current 2 to possibly a 9, which is the level in most of the unincorporated areas of Riverside County. The ISO is a for-profit organization that provides statistical information on fire risk. The “ISO Rating” ranges from 1 to 10, with “1” being the best. Insurance companies can use the local rating to lower premiums in lower risk communities and raise them in the higher risk locales.

After this discussion, the commission scheduled another workshop at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, to discuss the tax proposal further. One of the issues to be discussed will be the funding source for the materials about the proposal. 

A discussion of the public emergency alert and notification procedures also was on the agenda at the request of Buchanan. He noted that during several of the major fires this summer, e.g., Camp, Paradise and Woolsey fires, the notification systems partially, and sometimes totally, failed to be effective. 

“How do we get around those problems? And who triggers the issuance of the notification?” he asked.

In response, Fire Chief Patrick Reitz reported that he has had some preliminary discussions with Riverside County’s Emergency Management Department about the possibility of reactivating the siren that had been the local emergency alert years ago before the advent of social media.

“The incident commanders make the decision,” Reitz said. But EMD is aware and concerned about the problems in other areas.

In Riverside County, a resident’s landline phone number is automatically included in the database for emergency notifications. However, cell phone numbers must be registered, Reitz emphasized. (This can be done at www.rivcoready.org/AlertRivCo.)

A local source for emergency information is WNKI (FM 1610), Reitz added. 

“But there is renewed interest by the public to reactivate the emergency siren in town. In the past, neither the county nor [Office of Emergency Services] were supportive. They felt it would be confusing to the public,” Reitz told the commission. “But the new EMD is understanding.” 

The confusion arises from what one should do when hearing the siren. Does it mean evacuation? If so, in which direction should people go? Is it only to be used for fires or other natural disasters, too?

Reitz said public education about the purpose and meaning of the siren would be critical. Mike Feyder, president of Mountain Disaster Preparedness, attended the meeting and said they would be willing to organize and plan the educational component.

Reitz added that there might be a means to connect the siren system to WNKI so it would be audible throughout the Hill.

The commissioners were supportive, especially Rhonda Andrewson, who described it as a “local control” issue. Buchanan asked Reitz to continue to push it forward with county officials.

Tom Paulek, an Idyllwild resident, also encouraged the commission to do more. “This commission has the responsibility to get us all out of here in an emergency.”

A discussion of the financial report through December and possible mid-year review was postponed until the regular February meeting. IFPD has recently replaced its computers and installed new software, which delayed the preparation of the latest financial reports.

A general report was available. Through December, revenues have totaled about $863,000 and expenses have been $1.25 million. 

This negative balance is covered with the advance of the property tax revenues from the county. In August, IFPD requested an advance of $400,000 from Riverside County, and this is repaid from the December and January property tax receipts.

Also, expenditures outpace revenue during the first quarter of the fiscal year, which starts July 1, because of fire season. IFPD participates in many mutual aid calls. The salaries and expenses for these actions are paid immediately. IFPD does get reimbursed from the lead agency, e.g., the U.S. Forest Service or Cal Fire. However these payments often take months before they are received and deposited.

The commission and Reitz also are investigating the option of a line of credit. They plan to contact several financial institutions about the possibility of the loan option and the interest rate if the credit is used. 

In other business, the commission reviewed, modified and approved several policies involving board actions, such as the clerk of the board, meetings, agenda, conduct, actions and decisions.

The meeting concluded with a closed session reviewing the fire chief’s goals. Afterwards, Buchanan announced that Reitz had requested time off for medical tests. The commission granted this, but was unsure how long the medical absence might be.