The financial situation of the Sunsites Pearce Fire Department appears to be critical, having borrowed money 11 times so far this fiscal year.
With financial information handwritten on a white board, Board Treasurer Cletus Frei presented his report to those gathered for the Feb. 11 Sunsites Pearce Fire Board special meeting.
“I do things by numbers,” he said, first explaining that the tax money received from Cochise County goes into a warrant for the Fire District.
“As of now, we have $20,201. Our reserve account has $19,471, but it has restricted use,” said Frei, adding that current tax monies received from the County are $3,260.
“Our Chase payroll account has a balance of $24,346. Tomorrow, payroll will be made (almost $19,000), which will leave a balance of $5,346 in that account,” he told the audience.
The Fire District will have $25, 534 cash available, said Frei, explaining that this amount would have to last until March 30 “when our tax money comes in.”
“Tax money due to be received at the end of March is approximately $170,000, however the County informed us not to count on this total amount coming in,” said Frei.
Frei explained that whatever part of that $170,000 is received will have to last the District until October this year, when the next tax monies come in.
“Our credit line is $97,000, and is clean,” said Frei, adding, “If we borrow from the $97,000, it must be paid back by the end of the fiscal year, June 30.”
“Once it is borrowed, any tax money received after that goes to pay off the line of credit first,” he said.
“The reason the County told us not to count on the full tax amount of $170,000 coming in is that there is a long list of delinquent taxes this year,” said Frei, adding, “If people don’t pay their taxes, the District won’t receive any tax money.”
Holding up the County’s delinquent tax rolls from the Feb. 6 edition of the Range News, Frei said that it was the thickest copy he had seen in his 50-some years in Sunsites.
“People aren’t paying their taxes,” he said.
“At a prior meeting, someone said that we need to have a vision,” said Frei, adding, “Let’s look at reality.”
Frei explained that in both 2010 and 2011, the District did not use its line of credit.
“In 2012, the District used its line of credit seven times, and so far in 2013 the line of credit has been used 11 times,” he said.
“Last year, we did not receive $70,000,” said Frei, describing a worse case scenario where the Fire District might receive only a portion of its expected $170,000.
“That would be $240,000 due the District, but we can’t count on any of it,” he said.
“This is our current financial situation,” said Frei, adding, “These are the numbers that we have to work with. We have four months to go.”
“You asked me to be Treasurer, and these are the numbers that are being used to make decisions,” he said.
“That’s where we’re at, ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t get mad because these are the numbers. We can make it work, but there will need to be some cuts made – be more conservative.”
Asked later the reasons behind the 11 loans this year, Frei said that he did not know for sure yet, due to lack of access to the financial information.
He said that it does indicate that the Department had run short of money at those times.
During his Treasurer’s report, Frei mentioned the upcoming payroll for firefighters.
A related “emergency agenda item” was added toward the close of the meeting, after which a lengthy discussion ensued involving mostly Frei, Board Chairman Roger Lance, and Board Member Robert Fino.
Frei explained, “An emergency exists which permits us to review an item that was not put on the agenda. The reason for this emergency must be recorded in the minutes of this meeting, and it must be stated publicly what the emergency is.”
Fino interrupted Frei, making a point of order saying that this item was not on the agenda.
Fino explained that an emergency Board meeting must be posted, and to not do so is a violation of open meeting law; and that it needed to be properly recorded.
Lance replied that it was being recorded, and instructed Fino to read the last page of the agenda.
Frei continued his explanation for the reason behind the emergency agenda item, “The problem is that the payroll needs to be completed on Wednesday (Feb. 13),” and that time cards must be approved in order to do so.
“Since the Chief is not available to verify and approve the timecards, the next highest on the chain of command is the District Board,” he said.
Frei moved that Lance be allowed to go to the District Office the next day (Feb. 12), and that he and Captain Josh Steinberg review all the time cards and approve them if appropriate, so that the payroll could be completed by Feb. 13.
Frei then cited a section of Arizona Revised Statutes that grants the Board permission to add an emergency item the agenda without prior notice.
Board Clerk Rebel Jones seconded it.
Fino said that he knew this would be an issue when the Board voted to fire Chief Paul Petersen (at its Feb. 5 meeting).
He then asked why there wasn’t a special meeting held today, or the day after, to discuss payroll.
“Why is the Board so behind on the times?” said Fino, adding, “When you make one decision, it’s going to cascade into other situations.”
He felt that it wasn’t just an emergency that day, “it was an emergency the day the Board fired the Chief.”
Lance asked Fino whether or not it was important to pay the firefighters.
Fino re-iterated that it had been an emergency when Petersen was fired, and so an emergency meeting notice should have been posted at that time, and the public notified instead of bringing it up now.
The motion carried 3-1, with Frei, Jones, and Lance, voting in favor; Roll voting against; and Fino abstaining from the voting.
However, the issue was re-visited immediately after Steinberg said that he respectfully declined to meet with Lance to help approve the time cards.
Steinberg explained that the motion just passed involved him, but he had not been asked prior to the meeting.
The Board discussion began again when Fino said that if this agenda item had been placed “in a proper meeting,” then the people involved could have been asked first.
He added that the Board was now in the middle of “a real bad dilemma.”
Fino suggested the Board conduct an emergency meeting as soon as possible, “possibly tomorrow, with representatives from our Fire District.”
He pointed out to the Board “we have a Fire Chief (with the Fry Fire Department) who is our District representative and can give us the help we need instead of doing this on our own without authorization.”
“We should use our people instead of walking blindly from one meeting to another,” said Fino, adding that the firefighters have to be paid, and that it was State law that their checks not be delayed.
He then moved that an emergency meeting be scheduled for tomorrow (Feb. 12).
Lance reminded Fino that this was not on the agenda, which Fino ignored, calling for a second. Roll seconded the motion.
Frei reminded the Board that there was already a motion on the floor, made prior to Fino’s motion.
Frei went on to say that since Steinberg declined to assist Lance in reviewing the time cards, he wished to amend his motion, accepting the responsibility himself of reviewing the time cards tomorrow with Lance, “so that the firemen can be paid on time and in an orderly manner.”
Roll asked if they were authorized to do that, to which Lance replied in the affirmative – that Board Members were authorized to do that.
Jones seconded Frei’s amended motion, upon which Fino made a point of order, reminding the Board that his own motion was already on the floor and had not been voted on.
Fino then re-stated his motion to “contact our District Representative, the Fire Chief from the Fry Fire District, to come down and give us advice and direction.”
Frei disputed Fino’s motion, saying that it was yet to be decided who would approve the time cards tomorrow “and that is the motion before the Board.”
Fino made a point of order, saying that he made his motion before Frei’s, so should be voted on first.
He said that “the previous motion had already been voted on, and a motion that was already voted on could not be amended.”
Frei then yielded the floor to Fino, and Lance called for a vote on Fino’s motion, which failed 2-3, with Fino and Roll voting in favor, and Frei, Jones and Lance, voting against.
Frei re-stated his motion that he and Lance “accept the responsibility of reviewing the time cards tomorrow (Feb. 12) so that the firemen can be paid on time and in an orderly manner.”
The motion passed 3-2, with Frei, Jones, and Lance voting in favor and Fino and Roll voting against.
Lance told the Range News last week that “all bills are paid thanks to Jill Schultz,” who is the Fire Department’s Bookkeeper.
He said that Schultz “did a very good job of getting the hours worked, the deductions, and taxes ready for signing.”
“She was as concerned about the firemen and their families as the Board was – families should not have to miss their paychecks,” said Lance, adding that the paychecks were mailed on Feb. 13.
Schultz, who had filed a personal injunction against Frei regarding access to records on Dec. 21, 2012, had it dismissed it on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
“They are working together as a team, and getting things done,” Lance told the Range News.
Asked why the majority of the Board did not approve Fino’s motion to request help from the Fire District representative, Lance replied, “The services of the Fry Fire Chief were not needed.”
The SPFD Board will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, at the Sunsites Community Center.