Fire Department moves forward: Both sides of ongoing conflict wait with baited breath for workshop

Friday, February 8, 2019

Financial reporting and a workshop

Alta Fire Chief Kirk “Bubba” Reetz reported that the Firemen’s Association is still consulting with their attorney on the best approach to comply with requested financial disclosures. He said at Monday’s City Council meeting that he has not yet accepted the city attorney and city auditor opinions saying they are a component unit of the city, due to discrepancies.

He also said the organization is soliciting the state auditor’s office for an official ruling. They take issue with what they claim are inconsistencies between the city auditor’s reasoning and the city attorney’s reasoning to blend their financial reporting with the city.

“The city auditor said we took out a loan on behalf of the city, which we didn’t,” Reetz said. “The city attorney said we’re a financial benefit.” Either of those claims would qualify the Firemen’s Association as a “component unit” of the city. Any component unit is required to blend financial reporting with the city.

Reetz contends that a substantial number of donors wishing to remain anonymous complicates the situation, something the mayor acknowledges as a legitimate concern and something that he claims can be censored in reports to the city.

A workshop with George Oster is scheduled for Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fire Department’s building (previous reporting incorrectly stated the date as Feb. 22.) The workshop will cover the basics of proper handling of 501(c)(3) non-profits with regards to fire department operations. Mayor Al Clark is encouraging public attendance.

“They kind of think they’re a separate entity from the city because of their 501(c)(3),” said Clark in a previous conversation with the Pilot-Tribune about the ongoing conflict with the Firemen’s Assocation and the Fire Department. “The logic behind a 501(c)(3) is it allows departments to gain grants that are only available to tax-exempt organizations. It’s a way to help save the city tax dollars.”

Reetz previously contested Oster’s credentials at a City Council meeting, calling him a “self-proclaimed consultant” who will side with “whoever writes the check.”

Nonetheless, both the City and the Fire Department wait for the workshop with baited breath to see what Oster will say. The Fire Chief said the association’s attorney will deliver an opinion at the workshop.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” Reetz previously told the Pilot-Tribune, saying he was looking forward to what Oster has to say. He’s unsure of how the conflict will end, saying in January he did not see a way out of the situation short of legal action.

New auditing ordinance

Ordinance change proposals from City Council would require the Firemen’s Association to be audited every year, rather than every four years as it is currently written.

As things are, they go through an audit every year anyway due to an unrelated USDA loan that requires annual city auditing.

“Might as well make it official,” said Councilman Kevin Walsh.

Reetz took issue with the changes only based on the fact that it would require the department to run on a fiscal year, rather than the calendar-year basis it currently organizes its finances around.

Changes to the ordinance modification will be made accordingly with Armstrong and put on next month’s agenda.

Service billing

The City of Alta is also considering billing for Fire Department services.

Clark asked Reetz to look into billing for fire department services. The vast majority of calls are for emergency medical services.

“I think that’s just income tossed out the window,” Clark said.

Reetz agreed to research a potential structure and system the city could put in place to generate revenue from the calls. He said the department might have to work with Buena Vista Regional Medical Center for billing. He seemed to think insurance would only pay for the first call on those who need the service more frequently.

Those not paid for by insurance would likely be written off and forgiven. EMS needed for accidents caused by intoxicated driving can bill $1,500 for services to the offending driver, though Reetz said they have not run into a situation like that yet.

Reetz will bring more information for City Council to explore the issue in March.