Approves filling staff vacancies

Fire abatement inspections began this month. This year, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission plans tougher response with property owners who fail to comply with abatement requirements.

At the April 23 meeting, Acting Fire Chief Mark LaMont listed the state laws and county ordinances that provide authorization for fire districts to impose fines, as well as requiring, through forced actions, abatement of properties that pose a fire threat to their neighbors and the community.

LaMont promised to provide a draft ordinance to the commission at its May meeting. IFPD Resolution 480 is the current commission policy on forced abatement. The commission plans to adopt a new ordinance in time to apply the penalties to properties that fail this spring’s inspections. The district does intend to give owners two opportunities to comply with the abatement requirements.

Other commission actions included contracts with its auditor and legal counsel. 

The commission unanimously extended the contract with the current auditor, Fedak and Brown of Cypress and Riverside. 

“I believe the commission and staff are happy with the product we receive,” said LaMont, recommending approval of the contract.

The new contract is for three years with the possibility of two one-year extensions. The annual fee will begin at $8,700 and increase $200 annually for the remainder of the contract.

Only three commissioners — President Jerry Buchanan, Rhonda Andrewson and Ralph Hoetger — were present at the meeting. Although two directors — Vice President Larry Donahoo and Henry Sawicki — were absent, commission actions still required a majority of the full commission — three votes, not simply a majority of those present, two at this meeting.

This, however, came into play when the commission addressed the request for proposal for new legal services. Buchanan initially wanted the item tabled until the May meeting so that the full commission could make the decision.

However, Andrewson felt the RFP should be issued now so that the responses could be reviewed in early June. “I know we need to make a change,” she stated.

Andrewson and Hoetger voted to issue the RFP. Buchanan voted “no” and announced that only two votes for the item was insufficient to approve the action. He was still agreeable to placing it on the May agenda. 

In other commission action, several items had fiscal effects. For example, the commissioners urged LaMont to fill several vacant staff positions. Since several applicants had successfully passed the district’s firefighter exam, he planned to hire two in July after the commission approves the budget for fiscal 2019-20.

However, Hoetger felt strongly that LaMont should fill the vacant captain’s position now. He argued that LaMont had too many hats — assistant chief, currently acting fire chief and filling the vacant captain’s position, too.

“We need to give LaMont some relief, even if we manipulate the budget to hire personnel,” Hoetger said.

His colleagues agreed and directed LaMont to fill that position and the vacant firefighter position, too.

The commission did quickly review the draft fiscal year 2019-20 budget and its approval will be on the May agenda. This draft proposes a budget with $2.425 million of revenues and expenses totaling $2.347, yielding a net positive balance of about $78,000.

The salary costs would increase about $70,000. This is largely attributable to having three full-time captains for the year. Overtime is projected to increase about $40,000 and costs for reserves will add another $13,000. But the budget does not include salary costs for an assistant chief, which saves about $90,000.

Thus, total expenses are only about $13,000 more than this FY.

Through March 31, which was the end of the third quarter of this FY, IFPD’s expenses have been about $1.9 million and revenue for the same period has totaled about $1.8 million, resulting in a difference of about $108,000. But the staff is still projecting a positive balance by the end of June after the May property tax payments are received. 

Funds to outfit the recently purchased engine, RE621, were unanimously approved. After work is completed, the engine will qualify for use during mutual aid calls. Currently, it can be used for incidents within the district.

The commission also approved a resolution requesting that Riverside County provide an advance for the anticipated December 2019 property taxes. The county limits the use of the advance tax revenue to “any normal operating expense of the district included in the district’s fiscal year 2018-19 budget.”

From July through the middle of December, cash flow is limited to ambulance collections because it receives no property tax or assessments during that period.

IFPD has requested an advance since 2011. It has ranged from $300,000 to $450,000 and $400,000 has been the request since 2016, including this one.