COLUMBIA — After years of operating without a clear sense of its day-to-day finances, the Boone County Fire Protection District took a big step Wednesday night toward getting its books in order.
The Fire District's board of directors voted to reorganize the accounts holding Fire District funds. Two new accounts will be created: a capital and contingency fund and a reserve fund.
"It gives the board a lot clearer picture of what we have where," board member Shelly Dometrorch said. "It'll show us exactly how much we have that are moneys that are not in the budget for anything else."
The reserve fund, to be used only for emergencies, will hold 15 percent of the Fire District's budget. The capital and contingency fund will be used for capital improvements, such as new fire trucks and building projects, and to hold money rolled over from the previous year's budget.
Fire District Chief Scott Olsen estimated that about $450,000 will be left over from the Fire District's budget at the end of 2009, which would bring the capital and contingency fund to $1.25 million.
But an audit released in June by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the Fire District owes the Federal Emergency Management Agency as much as $752,000. The audit found that the Fire District overpaid itself for Missouri Task Force One deployments and inappropriately used FEMA cooperative agreement funds from 2002 to 2006.
The Fire District is contesting some of the findings of the audit, specifically the recommendation that the Fire District pay back unused grant funds for improperly approved extensions of grant funding.
The Fire District also still owes $150,000 to Steve Paulsell as part of its settlement with the former chief.
Olsen said that the Fire District has been "very fiscally conservative this year" because of the looming audit and that establishing the two new funds is another positive step.
"The way the Fire District has traditionally worked, we scrambled to buy a bunch of stuff (at the end of the year)," he said. "I don't think that's a good, prudent way to spend money."
The Fire District will maintain three existing accounts. They are:
- a maintenance fund, the Fire District's main fund;
- a bond fund, which still receives money from back and disputed taxes; and
- a dispatch fund, most of which goes to Joint Communications.
Board Chairman Dave Griggs said money in the Fire District's territorial agreement fund will be distributed between the two new funds.
The board also debated the merits of a cost-of-living raise for the Fire District's paid staff.
Board members failed to come to an agreement on the issue of giving raises with taxpayer money when many Boone County residents are struggling.
Olsen pointed out that the money for raises is available in the budget but said cost-of-living raises should be based on "an unbiased economic indicator for cost of living."
Dometrorch said she wrestled with the issue before the meeting.
"It's very difficult to justify to a member of the general public who may have been laid off that we're using their tax money to give these people a raise," she said.
The board plans to meet again at 3 p.m. Jan. 14 to discuss the raises.