Fire district in sound financial condition, continues to increase services, auditor reports

Fire district’s tax rate lowest in county for past five years.

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Fire Protection District is in sound financial condition and continues to increase the services it offers residents, Robert Offerman of Hochschild, Bloom & Co. told the Board of Directors last week.

The Board of Directors voted 2-0 June 27 to approve the district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, audited by Hochschild, Bloom & Co., for the year ending Dec. 31, 2010. Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer was absent.

Offerman said the district received an “unqualified opinion” on its 2010 financial statements — the best possible opinion that can be given.

In addition, the district earned a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association for its 2009 financial statements. This is the 12th consecutive year the district has received this recognition. The district also will send its 2010 statements to the association for certificate qualification.

“… First, I want to tell you that the district is in very sound financial economic condition and continues to increase the activity of services it provides to the citizens of the district,” Offerman said, citing an increase in the number of calls the district runs.

For example, 10 years ago the district was running a total of 9,400 calls — 7,886 EMS calls and 1,514 fire calls, Offerman said. “… Today in 2010, they’re running 12,616 calls. So that’s an increase of 1,788 for EMS calls. That’s a 23-percent increase in EMS calls in that 10-year period and the same way for fire emergency calls. They’re up 1,428 or a 94-percent increase in fire service calls in the calendar year 2010 compared to 2001.

“So in total during that 10-year period, your service call responses are up 3,216 calls or about 34 percent. So you’re providing a lot of services to the taxpayers of the district …,” he said.

Since 2003, the net assets of the fire district have increased by $12,164,950 to $32,480,544 from $20,315,594, Offerman told the board.

“… So there’s a $12 million increase in your net assets during that eight-year period or a 60-percent increase,” he said. “You see, that increase really started … after 2006 when you had $27 million and from 2006 through 2010, the net assets of the district have continued to increase every year. And that’s because as you build new houses and put new equipment into service, those get depreciated over a period of time …”

During 2010, the district’s net assets increased by $2,279,682 — 7.55 percent — to $32,480,544 from $30,200,862 the previous year, according to the report.

“… The district has net assets of $32 million — $11 million of that is invested in capital assets and $21 million is unrestricted. That’s what the district will operate on in 2011 …,” Offerman said. “Another thing to point out here is the district has very low debt to equity. When you look at their debt at $10 million and the district’s equity — $32 million — for every dollar of debt, you have $3 of equity. So bond underwriters would give the district a good rating …”

The financial report also states, “Unreserved fund balance for the general fund was $15,519,299 or 129 percent of general fund expenditures. This fund balance is provided from property taxes both received and earned at Dec. 31, 2010, and will be used to finance the next 12 months of operations during 2011 and to pay for future capital assets and other contingencies.”

Total fire district revenues in 2010 were up $1,651,212 — 8.76 percent — from 2009, an increase to $20,491,762 from $18,840,550, according to the report.

Taxes accounted for 78.6 percent of the district’s revenues in 2010 and brought in 10.78 percent more revenue than the previous year, increasing to $16,101,358 from $14,534,500.

The district’s tax rate was 67.1 cents per $100 of assessed valuation during 2010, a 7.8-cent increase from the previous year.

Expenses totaled $18,212,080 during 2010, down $230,844 — 1.25 percent — from the $18,442,924 spent in 2009, the report stated.

“For 2010, the district’s financial position has remained solid while property taxes levied were increased moderately,” the report stated. “The 2011 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. Most 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 of sick leave 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 costs of insurance premiums.

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

The report also indicates several upgrades in service during 2010, including:

• “The district increased personnel from 131 employees to 138 employees, including an increase of 11 fire/medics, allowing the district to utilize a sixth ambulance and provide the largest ambulance service of all fire districts in St. Louis County.

• “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 initiated two highly trained operations teams to address high-angle rope rescue and water rescue.

• “The district re-evaluated all commercial structures within the district and developed new prefire plans for fire operations preparedness.

• “The district implemented a mobile command center with multistation capabilities for incident scene management.

• “The district’s child safety seat program implemented in 2006 has installed over 500 safety seats at no cost to residents.”

The report for 2010 also highlights several budgetary reforms, including:

• “The district has remained committed to fiscal conservatism and fiscal responsibility and maintained the lowest tax rate of all fire district in St. Louis County for the fifth year in a row.

• “Construction that resulted in substantial completion of a new Engine House No. 4 was fully funded by current-year tax revenues received and reserve funds. Future capital asset investments are scheduled to be paid for with current-year tax revenues and no debt financing.

• “Earnest funds for land acquisition to construct a new Engine House No. 3 were deposited in 2010 and construction on a new Engine House No. 3 will begin in 2011 and will be funded with current-year tax revenues and reserve funds.

• The district received approval from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to terminate the defined-benefit pension plan and, as a result, lump-sum payments totaling $17.1 million were distributed to all current employees and a few retired employees. The district continues to fund the defined-contribution plan in accordance with the plan.”