Lincoln Parish Fire District Board Kicks the Can

The Lincoln Parish Fire District Board Finance Committee met tonight to consider the budget alternatives they asked to have prepared at last Thursday’s meeting only to find one budget proposal prepared for their consideration. 

At last Thursday’s meeting of the LPFD Board Finance Committee, discussion centered on alternatives to closing the LPFD budget shortfall. Committee members unanimously agreed on the distaste of cutting firemen or firemen salaries, but also realized that a balanced budget was necessary for recommendation to the full board. The committee concluded by requesting development of three additional budget proposals including cuts in the Chief’s salary, cuts to budget line items, and cuts in personnel to close the budget gap.

The de facto budget proposal presented for the committee’s consideration consisted of some line item cuts with the balance of about $62,000 of the shortfall to be transferred from the Capital Equipment Fund. Committee Chairman Willie Hendricks pointed out that there was supposed to be three additional budget proposals for the committee’s consideration as agreed at the last meeting. Fire District Administrative Assistant Jim Hilton heatedly pointed out that committee members had informed him that budgets were their responsibility and so he had not prepared any additional budgets other than the one before the committee. As committee chairman, Mr. Hendricks had to call for Mr. Hilton to calm down as shouting was unnecessary.

As part of the public comments, District Chief Danny Cross had animatedly admonished the Finance Committee for pointing out to Mr. Hilton that the committee was responsible for developing a budget, only to ask Mr. Hilton to develop three alternative budget proposals. Mr. Cross demanded that the committee either commit to developing their own budgets or leave budget development to the administrators. Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Parnell attempted to make the point that the Board is responsible for oversight and the administration is responsible for developing budgets, and each also offered to develop a budget if that was required, pointing out that they were capable of doing so.

Committee members took their time looking over the budget as they appeared to be seeing this budget for the first time. As no other budget proposals were prepared for the Finance Committee’s consideration, the committee voted to adopt this budget with committee members Thompson, Fulton, Lyons, and Robinson voting for, and Hendricks, Barnett, and Parnell voting against on a roll call vote.

As no other business was presented for the Finance Committee’s consideration, the meeting was adjourned, and the full LPFD Board was called into session. The first item was approval of the 2013 LPFD budget with members voting the same as they had voted in committee. The Board’s last meeting left unfinished business as the board failed to approve that meeting’s agenda, and these items were quickly disposed of through a series of roll call votes before adjournment.

Public comments at the Finance Committee meeting were again dominated by firemen and spouses to argue against cuts to firemen salaries and to extol the hard work of firemen and their dedication to the job. I have heard no one argue that the firemen do not do a fine job or that they are not dedicated to their profession. Any of us would value their assistance if we found ourselves victims of a house fire or automobile accident.

However, this is entirely beside the point as the LPFD is a public body funded by taxpayers who expect public laws requiring balanced budgets to be followed. The LPFD administration has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to operate within their means, and a responsibility to their employees to operate in a prudent manner that does not put employee jobs at risk through reckless planning and spending more than available revenues.

The LPFD Board has once again transferred funds from the Capital Equipment fund to make up a budget shortfall reducing the funds available for future equipment purchases. This practice has been followed for several years, and the Fire District cannot continue to operate with a budget shortfall making up the difference from the fund established for future equipment purchases. When the time comes to make these equipment purchases, will taxpayers be asked to approve new taxes to fund equipment purchases that were supposed to be funded through this planned fund?

Board member Layne Parnell emphasized the point that the problem needed to be dealt with now instead of continuing the practice of transferring funds from the equipment fund to make up budget deficits. Willie Hendricks also went on the record as being against budget deficits and expressed his disappointment that additional options were not presented to the committee for consideration.

Unfortunately, the LPFD Board’s detour into deficit spending has tempers flaring on all sides. Salaried firemen rightly worry about having their salaries cut or their jobs eliminated. The Board is responsible for providing oversight to protect the interests of taxpayers from mismanagement to insure that taxpayer dollars are wisely spent for maximum benefit. Voters are upset because the LPFD has morphed from the all volunteer department on which they voted in 1991 into a paid firefighter department they were never asked to approve and which the voter approved revenue stream is insufficient to support.

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