A zero percent net increase in the fire and ambulance budgets has been approved by the Manawa Fire Board.
Revised preliminary 2014 budgets for the Manawa Rural Fire Department and the Manawa Ambulance Service were approved by the Fire Board at its Oct. 22 meeting.
The board noted its previous budgets had been rejected by some of the municipalities involved with the fire and ambulance services.
“The first budget was very disturbing to members of the Manawa Common Council,” said Fire Board President Mary Eck, who represents the city of Manawa.
She said the common council agreed to hold off on a vote until the fire board had a chance to reconsider.
“In order to be a zero impact on municipalities, are we looking at cutting $37,000 from the fire department budget?” asked Joe Burkard, who also represents the city of Manawa.
Jackie Beyer reported that the town of Little Wolf approved the ambulance budget, but felt the allocation of the tax funds collected should be changed by the fire board.
“Why would you tax your citizens more money when the fire department has a surplus?” she asked.
“You don’t borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” Burkard responded.
“(The fire department has) enough to cover the deficit within the ambulance this year and still pay a large chunk of the new truck,” Eck said.
“We have to think outside the little box right now,” she said. “There have been mistakes made in the past and there isn’t a lot of give on the expense side of both departments.”
She noted that the city is only allowed to raise its budget by a small percent. Beyer said the towns are not allowed any increase.
Eck insisted that the fire/ambulance net budget should not be increased 41 percent to cover the $37,000 deficit for the ambulance.
“We need to get our two budgets back in line,” she said. “We have to do better.”
“It makes sense to use some of the money as a one-time thing right now to move it into the ambulance,” Eck said.
“The only big change this is really going to cause is the money going into the truck replacement fund,” Beyer said. “The fire board’s job is to allocate the funds.”
“At some point, as a board we need to set the past aside and move forward,” said Cathi Wegener.
Board members noted that the ambulance may have been underfunded for several years, but they were not informed.
“They never showed how much over or under they were running,” said Beyer, who serves as clerk for the town of Little Wolf and recently agreed to serve as clerk for the fire board.
She noted there was evidence of “unapproved spending with the previous regime.” According to Beyer, who recently helped to balance the books, the ambulance service had over $6,000 in expenses for office supplies, with no receipts.
“I think we need to take out of the truck replacement fund so we can get the municipal budgets fixed,” said Randy Elsner, representative from the town of Little Wolf.
Beyer noted that there may be a surplus at the end of the year. “So it may not all come from the truck replacement fund,” she said.
The board agreed to reduce the fire department budget to $152,852, reduced from $190,141 previously submitted to the municipalities, and keep the ambulance budget at $149,288. The 2013 budgets were $190,140 for the fire department and $111,655 for the ambulance.
Two board members voted against the 2014 budget revision. They were Burkard and Marlyn Ebert, representative from the town of Royalton.
The preliminary budgets will be resubmitted to the municipalities, which include the city of Manawa, and the townships of Little Wolf, Union, Royalton, Lebanon and St. Lawrence.
“These budget discussions need to not happen in October,” Eck said.
She suggested the fire board begin looking at budgets as early as June.
“This year we needed to wait for the audit to be completed,” Rosenau said.
Board members noted that the fire and ambulance budgets only reflected expenses and no revenue or savings.
“As commissioners, we should have that information,” Burkard said.