At a special budget workshop meeting Wednesday morning, the Fire Commission of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District set the districts Truth in Millage (TRIM) rate at 2.6500. The TRIM rate is the maximum tax rate that the board can set for the next fiscal year. They may lower the rate at Budget Hearings to be held in September, but they may not raise it.
The board workshop began last week when Fire Chief Matt Love opened budget discussions by sharing his process of developing the budget and the results of his analysis of the district’s finances along with four budget models.
The primary conclusion of that analysis was that the district needs attention in three critical areas: Training & Education Program Management, Administrative Support Workload and Capital Replacement Programs.
Love’s Budget Model A, based on a tax rate of 2.6918 (up from the current 2.4800) would increase the budget by just over $1 million. $800,000 of that increase would be personal services (wages & benefits). The A Model includes a 2% wage increase as is called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, a new training position, a rover position to help decrease overtime costs and an administrative support position.
Capital Expenditures represents an increase of about $200,000. Some of those capital costs include a 20% down payment on a fire engine ($120,000), station bay exhaust fan system ($35,000) and 3 staff vehicles ($130,000). Several capital categories will experience a decrease including medical, suppression, rescue and protection equipment, reflecting purchases in those categories in recent years.
Models B, C and D, incrementally remove budget items until the budget is left with an approximately $233,000 shortfall with a 2.4800 tax rate.
During Thursday’s meeting, Chair Carol Morris asked why the district’s depreciation method approach to capital equipment was not acceptable.
“There are two methods of handling capital expenditures and either can work if the data is accurate,” Love said. “Whatever system you choose, if you don’t have the lifespan and replacement costs accurate, you’ll have problems.
“We’re saving up 20% as a down payment. It’s not realistic to save up for a cash purchase. There’s not a way to pay cash for heavy apparatus.”
Responding to Vice Chair Ted Schindler’s question about financing, Love explained that with a trade in, the district would be closer to a 40% down payment.
Morris questioned whether the district can afford the equipment Love has budgeted.
“We’re so small compared to other districts. I’m concerned that we’re almost forcing ourselves into a bad scenario. I don’t want to see that happen again to our firefighters. It bothers me that we’re putting so much money into these categories…Normally the biggest portion of our budget has been for firefighters. We can’t keep raising and raising and raising or we have a problem.”
Love assured Morris and the 15+ district employees in the room that the 2% raise in the CBA would remain. The increased tax rate proposed is part of a 5-year capital catch up plan. He urged commissioners to view it as a reset budget to adjust capital expenditures to where they ought to be with the higher tax rate in place for 5 years to allow the capital expenditures to catch up.
To avoid tax increases in the future due to wage increases, Love explained that the budget would rely on increased valuation, postpone purchases as the district has been doing or raise taxes.
Fire Commissioners discussed outsourcing for the receptionist and training officer position. Morris asked how much the new home construction in the district had added to district coffers. The answer: $95,000 as per Finance Director Jane Thompson.
The budget includes a 24% decrease in ambulance transport fees, leading Morris to ask if Lee County EMS was picking up people that the FMB district should be but couldn’t due to construction.
Love said that wasn’t the case.
“We are down 13% in transports compared to last year, but our transport revenue is down 20%; it’s legislative issues, like Medicaid.”
Morris voiced concern over the possible hiring of a rover, who would assist in overtime coverage.
“I know some of our guys love the overtime,” Morris said. “I’d rather pay someone who’s here the overtime than hire someone.”
Love explained that the rover would help relieve the burden of mandatory overtime.
“In the first six months this year, we counted 120 instances of mandatory overtime where the employee did not want to work the extra day, but was ordered to. A rover position will help with that.”
In general discussion, Treasurer Bob Raymond said he is most interested in protecting district staff.
“I would like to catch up. I don’t mind catching up a little slower….It took us many years to get us into this position. Maybe, instead of a 5 year catch up, we look at a 7, 8 or 9 year catch up.”
While agreeing 4-1 to set the TRIM rate at 2.6500, board members voiced the desire to work toward lowering the tax rate during the Budget Hearings. Raymond voted nay, having said that he preferred to set the TRIM rate at 2.6200.
Raymond also urged the board to rent Town Hall to hold the September Budget Hearings there so that they could be televised.
The board agreed and set their Budget Hearings for September 15th and 28th, both at 6pm.