Fire district board passes budget, calls for random audits

Thursday, August 23, 2007 | 11:29 p.m. CDT; updated 4:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This article has been changed to correct the amount homeowners would pay under the Boone County Fire Protection District's new tax rate.

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Fire Protection District raised its tax rates slightly at a Thursday night board meeting. The fire district also called for an independent agency to conduct random audits on its troubled finances, following repeated accounting irregularities over the past two years.

The fire district raised its tax rates roughly 7 cents, to 77.35 cents per $100 evaluation. That means a homeowner with a $100,000 home will pay about $13.30 more in taxes at the end of this year.

Board members said the state auditor’s office recommended the increase to cover bonds the agency had taken out.

John Gordon, chairman of the fire district’s governing board, also said a yearly audit released Thursday has eased concerns over how the largely volunteer agency is spending its money. Sue Miller, an accountant with the Columbia auditing firm of Marberry, Miller & Bales, said the district’s finances were in “overall pretty good form.”

“We’ve come a long way from a year to a year and a half ago,” Gordon said. “I’m comfortable that the board ... can tell the public how that money is being spent.”

In 2005, the fire district spent $100,000 in public money to pay for a large bronze statue at the agency’s Columbia headquarters, records obtained by the Missourian in January show.

The 2005 audit also showed that the agency’s administrative expenses were $231,000 over final budget projections, resulting in the use of $200,000 in contingency money. Auditors called this an “inadvertent oversight” due to a fired bookkeeper not providing adequate financial information to management.

This year’s budget, totaling $3.4 million, doubles funding for communications equipment. That increase comes after a federal mandate requiring more radios for emergency services. The fire district has bought 13 radios so far this year. Fire Chief Steve Paulsell said that the department needs to purchase more than 100 to get into compliance.

“That’s a very difficult challenge,” board member Dave Griggs said.

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