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Lansing Fire District

The Lansing Fire Commissioners got their annual report card Tuesday when auditor Lawrence Johnston of Sean Hucko, CPA presented the results of the district's annual audit.  Johnston said that the district is in excellent financial shape, and there are no problems with how the money is being handled.

"Your district is very healthy," Johnston told the commissioners. "You're doing a great job with the finances. You probably are doing better than some of our larger districts that have five or six million in revenues each year.  Your district is very conservative. You're very careful with how you spend money and you tend not to spend your full budget."

The only red flag was that there was too much money in the district's unassigned fund balance.  But District Treasurer George Gesslein anticipated the problem, recommending that a large portion of the money be transferred to the apparatus reserve that is used for purchasing new fire trucks.

"I think the auditor's major comment is going to be that we have too much money, and part of the reason for that is I should have transferred another $500,000 to the apparatus reserve last fall. And I forgot," Gesslein said. "So I'm recommending we transfer $700,000 from funds available at the end of the year to the apparatus reserve.  Then you'll have the money to pay for the trucks when you've got them scheduled. Then we've made up all the shortfall that we've had in the past. So it looks like we're pretty good right now."

Gesslein noted that another $300,000 has been budgeted for the apparatus reserve this year.

"So we're going to be dropping $1 million," he said. "That'll take care of the aerial replacement when it comes up in few years. Then we are project to that."

That will be added to $1,834,553 that is currently in the reserve, enough to pay for a new aerial (ladder) fire truck when the time comes to replace the district's aging one, plus another truck likely to be needed before replacing the ladder truck.  The aerial truck is likely to cost at least $1 million dollars, and probably closer to $2 million.

Johnston applauded the district's policy of putting money in reserves so it can pay cash for new equipment and capital projects when fire trucks reach the end of their projected life span.  He had high praise for the management of the  Service Awards program, a retirement fund volunteer fire department members can earn by reaching high levels of participation in responding to emergencies, training, and equipment maintenance.

In 2013 a NYS Comptroller's audit accused the district of overtaxing because there was too much money between 2008 and 2012 that averaged $777,000 lower expenditures than appropriations from property taxes.  But fire commissioners say that while the Comptroller's numbers were accurate, their interpretation of why the money was collected and its purpose was not.  In response to the state audit the Lansing Commissioners passed a resolution to limit their unappropriated fund balance to 15% of appropriations during budget planning.  Tuesday's budget transfers brought the district back in compliance with that rule, and defended their policy of not buying equipment until they can afford it.

Johnston gave high marks to the district for the policy, that makes it possible for the district to pay cash for capital projects and apparatus (fire trucks).  Last year the district paid about $721,000 in advance for a new pumper tanker fire truck.  By doing so the district realized an about $20,000 discount and will save taxpayers even more because there are no interest costs because they didn't need to obtain a loan.  The new pumper tanker will carry 1800 gallons of water and have seating for up to 6 firefighters. Chief Scott Purcell said Tuesday that the new apparatus should be in service in late April or early May.

"That was smart," Johnston said. "That was paid out of the apparatus and the pre-payment was secured by a performance bond in the amount of the full contract price, and the truck is going be received in 2020."

The Lansing Fire District's budget for 2020 is $1,494,487.

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