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Mehlville Fire Protection District adopts balanced '04 budget

For the second year in a row, a balanced budget has been approved by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The approved fiscal 2004 budget projects $19,458,263 in total revenues and $18,331,311 in total expenditures with an excess of nearly $1.127 million in revenues. This increases revenues about 5 percent from the final approved fiscal 2003 budget by $956,372, up from $18,501,891, and increases expenditures about 3.8 percent by $676,126, up from $17,655,185.

The 2003 budget was the first time in recent history that the board approved a balanced budget, and cut by 122 percent fiscal 2002's deficit spending, which totaled nearly $1.6 million more in expenditures than revenues.

The three-member Board of Directors — Chairman Tom O'Driscoll, Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr. and Secretary David Gralike — voted unanimously Dec. 22 to approve the fiscal 2004 budget.

In August, the board voted to establish a fiscal 2004 tax rate of 90.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and considered a preliminary 2004 budget. Since then, projected revenue increased by $325,636 from $19,132,627, and projected expenditures decreased by $205,153 from $18,536,464.

"Our assessed valuation actually went up by $100 million for 2004, from 2003, which is a pretty significant increase,'' Comptroller Jeff Geisler told the board. He said that unfortunately, the Hancock Amendment, which limits the amount of property taxes that can be collected without voter approval, prevented the district from collecting about $638,000 more in revenue it would have collected without the Hancock Amendment.

The large increase came during a reassessment year, he said, noting it would not be so large during a non-reassessment year.

One of the changes since the August budget forecast was the inclusion of a final ambulance billing revenue total.

"That number is projected for 2004 to be approximately $2.1 million,'' Geisler said. "We had budgeted $1.9 million for 2003, and I believe we will surpass that — it will probably be around $2 million, I suspect, for this year.''

Also, Geisler noted that the inspection fees budget increased about $130,000 from $215,000 in 2003 to $345,000 in 2004 as a result of board approval of an increased fee schedule for the inspection office.

The district is transferring $165,000 from the general fund to the fire apparatus fund in anticipation of any needed capital expenditures.

To meet the district's minimum contribution requirements to fund the pension liability for its employees, the district is transferring $70,560 from the general fund and $40,180 to the pension fund. Geisler noted that this is roughly a 2 percent decrease from the 2003 funds transferred to the pension fund, from $113,000 in 2003 to $110,740 in 2004.

Another change from the budget as originally projected in August was a change in the employee welfare line item. The projection was a 17 percent increase, but Geisler said that lower health insurance premiums for the upcoming year resulted in a "worst-case scenario'' 10 percent increase from 2003, from $1.54 million to $1.69 million in 2004. The board is set to decide on a health insurance plan proposal from United HealthCare in mid-January.

Other expenditure changes, Geisler explained, included a 33 percent increase in computer expenses from 2003's $24,100 to 2004's $31,958 due to switching from Windows 98 to Microsoft XP software; dues and subscriptions decreased about 22 percent from 2003's $19,300 to 2004's $15,000 because new code books that included the new permit fee structure increased 2003 expenditures.

The maintenance budget decreased by 53 percent for outside labor of vehicles, from $75,000 in 2003 to $35,000 in 2004.

"So long as we don't have any unexpected needed repairs like an engine repair or something like that, we should have adequate coverage, but in the event that an engine or something does blow on a truck, and it's a $10,000 item, we will have to go with an appropriation or a budget amendment in order to cover those expenses,'' Geisler said.

Workers' compensation insurance was projected in August to increase 23 percent, but Geisler said the actual premium that came in only amounted to a 7 percent increase, from 2003's $610,000 to 2004's $653,737.

"Overall, looking at all the expenditures, you'll see that we're looking at only a 2 percent increase over the 2003 level for all the personnel, administration and general overhead items,'' Geisler said.

The district delayed an ambulance purchase replacement in 2003, so the $165,000 was carried over into the fire apparatus and equipment budget, resulting in a significant increase from 2003.

Sick leave payout expenditures of $300,000 also were carried over from 2003 because nine employees who were eligible to retire elected not to do so in 2003.

Overall, the general fund total expenditures are $10,354,112, offset with the revenues for a surplus of $84,214 at the end of 2004. On the fire apparatus reserve, without any earmarked expenditures, about $166,000 will remain in that reserve fund.

In the sick leave reserve fund, offset with the revenues, the district expects expenditures of $300,000, resulting in deficit spending of $240,000.

In the death benefit reserve fund, the anticipation of $26,000 of expenditures in 2004 will result in deficit spending of $14,000.

In the ambulance fund, total expenditures of $5,314,624 results in a surplus of $763,851 at the end of 2004.

Total expenditures in the alarm fund of $565,100 result in a surplus of $295,550.

The pension fund's total expenditures of $1,771,475 will result in a surplus of $71,537.

Gralike asked Geisler whether the district, by budgeting this early for the year, generally is "fat on our budget or are we tight'' at the year's end?

Geisler replied that in the past, the district had about $600,000 remaining from 2002 coming into 2003.

"I don't believe we have anything near that number coming in from 2003 to 2004, and the 2004 budget is cut down as far as it can possibly go. It's a situation where we don't really have any contingency money in the event that an engine blows up in a pumper — if that happens, we have to come to the board and ask for more money,'' he said.

"I believe in the past the philosophy has been to kind of pad the accounts in the event that we needed money, and the situation has changed where we need every dollar that we possible can, and we're looking extremely close at those items, and there's no pork left in the barrel,'' Geisler said.

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