Financial condition of MFPD remains strong

Tax rate is lowest in county for eighth consecutive year

By Mike Anthony

The financial condition of the Mehlville Fire Protection remains strong, with its net position increasing by nearly $1.1 million during fiscal 2013.

The Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to approve the fire district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, audited by Hochschild, Bloom & Co., for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2013.

Robert Offerman of Hochschild, Bloom & Co. told the board June 25 that the district received an “unqualified opinion” on its 2013 financial statements — the best possible opinion that can be given.

In addition, the fire district earned a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association for its 2012 financial statements.

This is the 15th consecutive year the district has received this recognition. The district also will send its 2013 statements to the association for certificate qualification, according to Chief Financial Officer Brian Bond.

In 2013, the district’s total net position — total assets — increased by $1,092,243, to $38,087,310 from $36,995,067 in 2012. That amounts to a 2.95-percent increase, according to the report.

Of the total assets, $16,650,631 represents the district’s investment in capital assets, net of related debt; $1,681,539 is restricted for dispatching; and the balance of $19,755,140 will be used to meet the district’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors, the report states.

The district’s assets increased in fiscal 2013 by nearly $700,000 — 1.54 percent — and liabilities decreased by more than $411,000 — 4.74 percent.

During 2013, revenues decreased by more than $850,000 — 3.91 percent — to $20,883,077 from $21,733,650 in 2012. Of the district’s revenues, 77.1 percent came from taxes, 21.5 percent from charges for services and the remainder came from other income and investments.

The district’s expenses increased in 2013 by $126,525 — 0.64 percent — to $19,790,834 from $19,664,309 in 2012.

Liabilities include debt totaling $1,314,521 due within one year, long-term debt totaling $2,332,328 and a net pension obligation of $2,914,636.

A total of $3.61 million in certificates of participation, or COPs, were issued in May 2000 to fund the expansion and renovation of the district’s No. 5 firehouse and administrative headquarters on Mueller Road in Green Park.

In July 2005, the Board of Directors voted to refund the COPs issued in 2000 with a savings of more than $240,000 in interest payments. As of Dec. 31, the district owed $1,765,000 on the COPs.

The district’s liability for accrued vacation totaled $1,047,819 at the end of 2013, a decrease of $15,472.

The district’s liability for accrued sick leave totaled $834,030 at the end of 2013, a reduction of $32,583.

In 2011, the district reduced its liability for accrued sick leave by $1,487,347 — to $897,897 from $2,385,244. That liability was reduced through attrition and a $1.1 million payout to employees.

“For 2013, the district’s financial position has remained solid while property taxes levied were increased moderately,” the report stated. “The 2014 budget and future forecasts continue to show that services to the district’s taxpayers can continue based on the current property-tax levels. The district has continued to work hard to reduce expenses wherever possible. Some of the cost-savings policies and procedures that promote the district’s financial stability are in place and are summarized as follows:

• “Continued implementation of the cross-trained fire/medic staffing and ALS (Advanced Life Support) equipped pumpers.”

• “Reduction of the sick-leave liability through attrition.”

• “Implemented a Health Savings Account — HSA — benefit coupled with a high-deductible health plan that allows the district to continue to provide health insurance benefits to employees, while managing the rising cost of insurance premiums.”

• “Abolished employer self-funded disability and death benefits on future claims.”

The district’s 2013 blended tax rate of 70.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation was “the lowest tax rate of all fire districts in St. Louis County for the eighth year in a row,” the report stated.

The report highlighted several upgrades in service during 2013, including:

• “The district transitioned to a new emergency dispatching center and recognized substantial technological upgrades related to Advanced Vehicle Locator — AVL — and Mobile Data Terminal — MDT. AVL service utilizes global-positioning-system technology and allows the closest available unit to be dispatched based upon location, versus using a system of designated areas of response. MDT service provides electronically transmitted, real-time patient-information updates to the crews while responding to the call.”

• “The district acquired seven new defibrillators for the ambulances to replace the previously used equipment — the new defibrillators acquire and utilize more data related to current vital signs. In addition, the district acquired eight new automatic external defibrillators for utilization on the seven pumpers and the rescue squad, which allow no interruption in data acquisition and relay of patient information.”

• “The district continues to purchase a new ambulance each year and provides the largest ambulance service of all fire districts in St. Louis County. 2013 represented a full year of the district’s modified-staffing model to provide a sixth ambulance in service, improving response times for emergency medical services.”

• “The district was the first fire district in St. Louis County to implement a physical abilities test to verify an employee’s physical aptitude for firefighting responsibilities. The district mandates successful completion of this test for continued employment.”

• “The district maintained two highly trained operations teams to address high-angle rope rescue and water rescue.”

• “The district’s child safety seat program implemented in 2006 has installed over 1,400 safety seats at no cost to residents.”

Budgetary reforms during 2013 include:

• “Safety and administrative reforms have resulted in consistent reductions in workers’ compensation premiums, which have consistently decreased from $893,000 in 2005 to $440,000 in 2012.”

• “The district strategically funded $350,000 to address future post-employment disability obligations.”

During 2013, board Chairman Aaron Hilmer was paid $1,525, board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman was paid $1,850 and board Secretary Ed Ryan was paid $1,800 — a total of $5,175.