Mehlville fire district projects roughly $370,000 surplus in approved 2007 budget

Preliminary budget projected deficit of more than $400,000

By MIKE ANTHONY

A fiscal 2007 budget for the Mehlville Fire Protection District that projects a surplus of more than $370,000 was approved last week by the district’s Board of Directors.

Board members voted unanimously Dec. 29 to approve the fiscal 2007 budget that projects expenditures of $16,401,712 and revenue of $18,472,240.

Excluding $1,699,779 to be collected for the district’s pension fund, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit, a surplus of $370,749 is projected on Dec. 31 — the end of the fiscal year.

The approved fiscal 2007 budget projects expenditures of nearly $2.5 million less than the preliminary 2007 budget that was presented to the Board of Directors in early August and revenue of $235,300 more than initially anticipated. The preliminary budget had projected revenue of $18,236,940 with expenditures of $18,650,851 — a deficit of $413,911.

Though the preliminary budget projected a deficit, board Chairman Aaron Hilmer said last summer the bottom line could change drastically before the board adopted a final budget in December, noting that the projected deficit was a result of some anticipated capital expenditures.

The Board of Directors voted in August to set the district’s fiscal 2007 tax rate at 69.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The “blended” fiscal 2007 tax rate of 69.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation is 42.8 percent less than the legal maximum of $1.22 per $100 the district could levy and 18.4 percent less than the previous tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100.

The board voted unanimously Aug. 16 to establish the fiscal 2007 tax rate as follows:

• General fund — 45 cents. The previous levy was 56.44 cents.

• Ambulance fund — 14 cents. The previous levy was 20.26 cents.

• Alarm fund — 2 cents. The previous levy was zero cents.

• Pension fund — 8.8 cents. The previous levy was 8.8 cents.

In December, the board voted to adopt a revised 2006 budget that projects a surplus of roughly $3.4 million — $1.85 million more than originally anticipated.

Board members voted unanimously Dec. 13 to adopt a revised 2006 budget that projects expenditures of $15,872,730 and revenue of $20,950,309.

Excluding $1,676,239 collected for the district’s pension fund, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit, a $3,401,340 surplus is projected on Dec. 31 — the end of the fiscal year.

At the Dec. 29 board meeting, Secretary Dan Ottoline Sr. questioned Comptroller Judy Kreider about the revised 2006 budget approved two weeks earlier.

The board secretary asked whether funds were “being manipulated” to make the district’s financial picture look favorable now that Hilmer has proposed placing a tax-rate decrease on the April 3 ballot. The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday, Jan. 3, whether to place Proposition TD, or Tax Decrease, before voters.

“Judy, monies were switched around. Are we paying for the bills of December out of ’06 money or ’07 money?” Ottoline asked.

Kreider replied, “… Since we’re on a cash basis of accounting, that means if we pay a bill in December, it’s reported in December. So if we don’t get a bill until January for some December business, it gets booked in January. But everything that we know about is paid in December.”

Ottoline asked, “And we have money to pay these?”

Kreider said, “We definitely do.”

Ottoline said, “Because we switched money around.”

The comptroller replied that the fire protection district is in a position to meet all of its financial obligations.

Ottoline asked, “Books aren’t being manipulated to look good for this, for the (Proposition) TD?”

Kreider said, “Well, a budget’s a budget. Until the actual comes in, we don’t know whether we blew the budget or not.”

After Hilmer made a motion to adopt the 2007 budget, Ottoline then had several questions about the proposed budget, including $600,000 budgeted for the purchase of land for the site of a new No. 2 firehouse.

“Judy, you said you pulled money from the building and the land of ’06?” Ottoline asked.

Kreider said, “We did not — we had projected that they were going to start work on … firehouse 2. That was not done in ’06.”

Ottoline interjected, “Understood.”

Kreider continued, “We deferred it.”

Ottoline repeated, “Understood.”

Kreider said, “So that’s all we did is we said the money just wasn’t spent in ’06. We are planning on spending it in ’07.”

Ottoline said, “Understood. In the ’06 (budget) … $600,000 for land. Nothing for building. We’re not going to build a building in ’07?”

Kreider said, “I would assume we’ll start, but usually it takes a while. You’ve got to get your drawings and everything. I don’t know when — it depends on when we get the land, first of all, and then depends on when the architects … they get their drawings and everything together. So it may not happen. The building may not — we may be able to start it in ’07, but probably very late.”

Ottoline said, “You’ve said that the budget is nothing but a ‘guesstimation.’ We aren’t guessing that we’re going to build this building in ’07?”

Kreider replied, “An educated guess.”

Ottoline interjected, “Why did we put it in there then?”

Kreider said, “Well, hopefully we are doing that. I mean it depends on, you know, the time frame … It’s in the budget, but we just don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

Ottoline said, “My question is are we doing this so it looks good for the paper?”

“I don’t think so …,” Kreider replied, adding the land for the new firehouse was not purchased in 2006.

Ottoline said, “I understand that. I understand that. But in ’07, we’re going to?”

Kreider said, “As far as I know …”

Ottoline interjected, “And we’re going to build a building in ’07?”

Kreider replied, “You’d have to check with the chief on that.”

As for Ottoline’s query about whether funds were “being manipulated” to make the district’s financial picture look favorable, Hilmer later told the Call the fiscal responsibility he and Stegman have exercised since taking office speaks for itself.

“Bonnie and I have been there 20 months. We’ve approved three budgets — the amended ’05 with a roughly $750,000 surplus for the calendar year, the amended ’06 with a roughly $3.4 million surplus and now this one (fiscal 2007), which shows a roughly $200,000 surplus …,” he said, adding that the district’s 2007 tax rate is 42.8 percent less than the legal maximum the district could levy.