Jan 16, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Once final numbers for 2011 are booked, the Camillus Volunteer Fire Department will see about 20 percent of its budget left unused.
Preliminary budget numbers show a $51,675 surplus in the department’s operational budget, a surplus large enough to cover the village’s costs to run the department.
According to a report compiled by Robert Antonacci, County Comptroller, the net cost to village taxpayers for the fire department is just $45,000 of its total $562,000 budget after revenue from a contract with the town. Though some bills are still trickling in to the village clerk’s office, this year’s surplus could be large enough to cover all costs to village taxpayers.
“I’m trying to do the best for the fire department and the taxpayers at the same time.”
— Doug Groesbeck
“I’m trying to do the best for the fire department and the taxpayers at the same time,” said Camillus Fire Chief Doug Groesbeck. “I want us to maintain the high-quality fire service we do have.”
The fire department reduced their budget by nearly $28,000 for 2012 and Groesbeck said careful spending has assisted the department for 2011. The fire department represents more than half of the village’s total budget, but revenue from the town to cover the fire contract offsets nearly all of those costs, according to budget documents.
“I can’t just reduce the budget by $100,000 and at the end of the year be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have the money to operate the department,’” said Groesbeck, who is in his first year as chief. He was the deputy chief in 2011. “This past year we have been very conservative about what we have been spending money on. Costs are high, we’re putting away so [major purchases or repairs] don’t have to be sent to referendum.”
The department’s surplus at year’s end is split between two reserve funds for equipment and capital repairs. State law mandates the reserves can only be spent on the specific funds — equipment or capital repair. At year’s end, the fire department moves their surplus to the reserve funds, though the village could take the money.
“I feel we shouldn’t be penalized for trying to save money.”
— Doug Groesbeck
“As a village fire department, this is the only way we can save money,” Groesbeck said. “That is still money that is being put away, it’s not like the village is going to give it back. The village can’t just take it and put it in their coffers, it goes into the reserve funds.”
On average, Groesbeck says the department puts between $10,000 to $15,000 total in the two accounts each year.
“We did a good job of not spending money this year in order to get that fund back up,” Groesbeck said. “We can’t run with that fund empty.”
At year’s end, the department had $13,147.49 in the two accounts.
“This isn’t the first year we have ended with a surplus, but at the end of the year, you can see where it dwindles down,” Groesbeck said.
But Antonacci says typical municipal entities should be putting between 5 and 15 percent in the reserve funds — the anticipated $51,675 is 20 percent of the operational budget.
“We’re talking about a half a million dollar budget. To have a surplus, I would like to know where their estimates went awry or were miscalculated,” Antonacci said. “That’s a large surplus for such a small budget. To me, anything more than 5 percent is probably more than enough. It would seem to me that that cash should be returned to the taxpayers.”
Groesbeck doesn’t expect to give any of the surplus back to the village.
“That’s up to discussion with the village board,” he said. “I feel we shouldn’t be penalized for trying to save money.”
The preliminary surplus could be lower once final, reconciled numbers come in for December, Mayor Patricia Butler said.
“It sounds like an enormous amount of money, and I’m not saying that it’s not,” she said. “But is it likely to be that much money? No. Should there be a substantial amount, when we know the amount, I will go back to the fire department and speak to the powers at be to see where this money should go and see where we should absorb it.”
The fire department cut planned spending in 2012 by a bit more than $27,000 — that works out to a 5 percent decrease.
“They may have a little more than they have in other years because they paid off the firehouse,” Butler said.
The Newport Road station was built in 1991, Groesbeck said. This year will be the first without a mortgage payment on the building, but the building’s age is causing other budget problems. The department overspent by more than $21,000 for exterior building maintenance.
In 2011, $13,000 was budgeted for repairs. Groesbeck said the 21-year-old building needed roof and window repairs, and the building was experiencing expansion joint issues. The parking lot had also not been sealed or repaved since the station was built, Groesbeck said. Phase one of the paving project, spanning the rear of the building, was completed in 2011, and the second phase should bring a new, paved driveway to the front of the building with the firetruck bays.
The budgeted $13,000 has swelled to $32,399.24 — that particular line item has been overspent by $19,399.24. Costs increased 95 percent between 2010 and 2011 for exterior building maintenance. Some maintenance work was covered by grants — the board of elections lobbied for grant money to assist the department in rehabbing the cement walkway in the rear of the building. The crumbling sidewalk could have been a hazard on election day; the station is a polling place.
For 2012, the department has budgeted for $23,000 for phase two of the paving project. The third phase, the “U” portion of the driveway, will be completed the next year.
“It was starting to become a liability to the village,” Groesbeck said.
Despite the overall decrease in the budget, and the expected surplus, certain areas of the budget have also been overextended.
“The costs could spiral up, or they could stay the same. We don’t know.”
— Doug Groesbeck
Repairs, maintenance and fuel for the chiefs’ vehicles has been overspent in 2011 and will see a large jump for the budgeted amount in 2012.
Fuel costs for the three chief vehicles has more than doubled since 2010. The department spent around $3,640 in 2010 — without final numbers for December, the three cars had already used more than $7,180 with a month to go. The three vehicles are given to Groesbeck, Deputy Chief Jim McBride and Second Assistant Chief Scott Binns.
“The cost of fuel has gone up,” Groesbeck said. “The costs could spiral up, or they could stay the same. We don’t know.”
The vehicles are typically the first-responders to incidents, Groesbeck said. Chiefs can take their vehicles to work if their job allows them the flexibility to respond to incidents while on the job. The chiefs’ vehicles are allotted to fill-up at the town’s fueling station two times a month.
“It’s not like they’re going down there and getting fuel whenever they see fit,” Groesbeck said.
The fueling costs for the chief’s vehicles trumped the costs for the fire engines in 2011 — about $4,000 was spent on fuel for the fire trucks.
“We try to keep the apparatus from rolling out the door because the mileage is so terrible,” Groesbeck said. “The chiefs’ vehicles are getting the most amount of activity going from scene to scene.”
This year’s budget, for 2012, includes $19,200 worth of repairs for the three sports utility vehicles. That’s a 78 percent increase from budgeted amounts in 2011.
“These vehicles are all pushing 80,000 miles,” Groesbeck said. “We have to be prepared for unexpected repairs.”
Groesbeck hopes to phase in new chiefs’ vehicles in the next few years to bring in something more mileage-friendly and equitable for the department.
Costs for retaining and utilizing an attorney have swelled since 2010. The department spent $338 in 2010, but are budgeting $10,000 for 2012 — a 96 percent increase. The unknown while dealing with the village’s dissolution urged the department to budget more.
“It was unknown if the village was to be dissolved,” Groesbeck said. “We needed the legal services there if we had to become independent.”
The department also used attorneys this year after the department failed to file taxes for five years. Straightening out those tax issues, which have since been resolved, was a costly endeavor, Groesbeck said.
Insurance premiums to protect the volunteer firefighters more than doubled in 2011, as well. The VFBL, or Volunteer Firefighters Benefits Law, costs increased by $21,166.75. The steep increase in costs was known going into the 2011 budget, but Groesbeck is unsure why costs increased as much as they did. The insurance protects any firefighters should they be injured in the line of duty. The department had three reports of injuries at incidents in 2011.
It also provides for life insurance for a death in the line of duty.
The costs for vehicle and liability insurance also more than doubled — the department expects costs to reach $29,500 in 2012 over the $13,000 spent in 2010.