Fire district’s total net assets up by nearly $400,000 in 2009

Financial position of district remains 'solid,' report states.

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Fire Protection District’s total net assets increased by nearly $400,000 during 2009, according to a recently approved financial report.

“The district’s total net assets increased by $397,626 as a result of this year’s operations,” stated the district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, audited by Hochschild, Bloom and Co. for the year ending Dec. 31, 2009.

Robert Offerman of Hochschild, Bloom and Co. said the district received an “unqualified opinion” on its 2009 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 2008 financial statements. This is the 11th consecutive year the district has received this recognition.

The district also will send its 2009 statements to the association for certificate qualification.

During 2009, the district’s net assets totaled $30,200,862 compared to $29,803,236 the previous year. Total district revenues were up 3.89 percent from 2008, an increase to $18,840,550 from $18,135,565, according to the report.

Taxes accounted for 77 percent of the district’s revenues in 2009 and brought in roughly 5 percent more than the previous year, increasing to $14,534,500 from $13,818,677.

The district’s tax rate was 59.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation during 2009, a 3-cent increase from the previous year.

Expenses totaled $18,442,924 in 2009, up roughly 9.4 percent from the $16,855,825 spent in 2008, the report stated.

“For 2009, the district’s financial position remained solid while property taxes levied were increased moderately,” the report stated. “The 2010 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 promoted 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 liability of sick leave by attrition, vacations, overtime, holidays and the uniform benefits continue.

• “Implemented health insurance premiums of 50 percent paid by employees for dependents or buy-up benefits. Last year the district offered employees Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that carried a lower premium to the district and a higher deductible for the employee, yet saving them on their out-of-pocket cost for premiums. To encourage participation in HSAs, the district offered $2,000 (in) tax-free funds to each employee to start their savings accounts in 2009.

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

Among other financial highlights outlined in the report for 2009 are:

• “In the government-wide financial statements, the assets of the district exceeded its liabilities at Dec. 31, 2009, by $30,200,862 (net assets). Of this amount, $9,862,723 represents the district’s investment in capital assets, net of related debt and the balance of $20,338,139 will be used to meet the district’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors.”

• “As of Dec. 31, 2009, the district’s governmental funds reported combined ending fund balances of $23,437,429, a decrease of $1,641,317 in comparison with the prior year. Of this amount, $11,994,289 is designated for next year’s operations, $931,135 is designated for sick-leave benefits, $105,148 is designated for dispatching equipment, $12,016 is reserved for prepaid items and $10,394,841 is unreserved and undesignated.”

• “Unreserved fund balance for the general fund was $16,269,681, or 124 percent of general-fund expenditures. This fund balance is provided from property taxes both received and earned at Dec. 31, 2009, and will be used to finance the next 12 months of operations during 2010 and to pay for future capital assets and other contingencies.”

The report also indicates several upgrades in service during 2009, including:

• “The child safety-seat program, which was implemented in 2006, has installed over 400 safety seats and at no cost to residents.”

• “Equipment has been upgraded and brought up to code in accordance with the district’s vehicle-replacement plan.”

• “There was an increase of 20 percent in call responses from 10,146 in 2004 to 12,178 in 2009.”

• “The district ended 2009 with 131 total personnel.”

In addition, the report identified several budgetary reforms during 2009:

• “Workers’ compensation premiums decreased from $892,000 in 2005 to $626,209 in 2009. The discount premium was 20 percent in 2009 and the surcharge of 5 percent due to claims was eliminated.”

• “The construction of a new engine house No. 2 was fully funded by taxes received and no additional debt was incurred and was completed and opened in June of 2009. Purchase of land was made in late 2009 to start replacement of engine house No. 4. Future capital asset investments are being reserved from current taxes received.”

• “Salaries remain the largest cost factor, and appropriate increases will occur in 2010 along with hiring new fire/medics.”

• “The district’s contract with Christopher Bosche, M.D., to oversee and train the fire/medics was continued. Dr. Bosche is paid as an independent contractor.”

The report also noted that one new fire engine and two new ambulances were purchased in 2009 and put into service this year.