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Utility finances doing well, St. Robert auditor reports
ST. ROBERT, Mo. (Feb. 2, 2009) — While the Pulaski County budget and the budgets of many of its cities are in serious trouble, St. Robert’s city auditor presented a strong financial report at Monday night’s council meeting.

“You might be seeing a trend on this page; everything seems to be increasing a little bit, and that is a good thing,” said John Cummings of the Springfield-based auditing firm Davis Lynn and Moots.

Cummings was particularly complimentary of St. Robert’s decisions to raise utility rates which prevented problems in the city’s fund balances for electric, water/sewer, and gas utilities, as well as the solid waste transfer station account.

“A lot of cities that I’ve been to in the last year to a year and a half have seen decreases in their utility funds,” Cummings said. “I want to commend you guys for staying on top of your rates and making sure that they were where they needed to be.”

The electric utility fund had operating revenues of $4.285 million in the 2007 budget year, up $226,000 from the prior year, and operating expenses of $3.437 million, up $337,000 from the prior year, for an operating income of $849,000. After accounting for capital expenses and other transfers out, the electric fund showed a net income of $93,000. The water/sewer fund had $1.172 million in 2007 operating revenue, down $125,000 from the prior year, and operating expenses of $1.048 million, up $136,000 from the prior year, for a 2007 operating income of $124,000 with a net income of $347,000 after transfers. The gas fund had $1.202 million of operating revenues in 2007, down $45,000 from the prior year, and operating expenses of $1.131 million, with an operating income of $71,000 and a net income after transfers of $98,000.

The trash transfer station showed a relatively small loss with $2.065 million in 2007 operating revenues, up $250,000, operating expenses of $1.905 million, up about $364,000, and an operating income of $161,000 and a net loss of $10,000 after transfers.

“In summary, it’s a pretty good financial year,” Cummings said.

Later in the meeting, City Administrator Norman Herren announced that the city is paying about $8 per dekatherm less than last year in its cost to purchase natural gas. That savings are passed on to residents, Herren said.

“Part of that is because of the economy, but I’ve heard from all indications it looks like through the winter we’re going to be able to keep the prices down to our residents,” Herren said.

The city also had its highest-ever rate of gas consumption during a day of 17-below wind chills last month, and that’s forcing city officials to recalculate how much they must purchase.

The audit found no accounting problems other than those which are unavoidable in smaller cities due to lack of staff to cross-check financial receipts, said Cummings, who reported an unqualified or “clean” opinion.

“This is the best opinion you can get,” Cummings said. “The deficiencies noted here are very common and they are in probably 90 percent of municipalities of this size.”

Alderman Ed Spotts asked for details and noted that years ago St. Robert did have a problem with those handling the city’s finances.

“A lack of segregation of duties can lead to a problem,” Cummings agreed. “I would say that anybody who has looked at an audit report in the past has seen this. Basically what it says is that you have the same person doing too many functions within the accounting transaction cycle … To make up for this you’d probably have to hire about 15 people, and since that’s not really a feasible solution, we just recommend that you do what you can and monitor it.”

Spotts asked for a PowerPoint presentation and possible comparison data with prior years in future reports; Cummings said making a PowerPoint presentation would be easy but presenting comparative data with prior years could be complicated.

Cummings also commended the city for addressing issues with the accounts receivable listing in the municipal court for the prior year and for correcting a problem with being out of budgetary compliance with a general fund deficit.

In other financial matters:

• Aldermen unanimously approved a bill presented by City Attorney Kevin Hillman and Alderman Todd Williams for the city’s 2.5 percent share of a Missouri Department of Transportation matching grant of $13,219 for additional engineering work by the Crawford Murphy and Tilly engineering firm that is needed to build a second T-hangar for the Waynesville-St. Robert Municipal Airport at Forney Field.

“The building is actually going to be delivered at the end of this month,” Hillman said. “If you know how they built that first building, they’ll have it up by the end of March.”

Hillman said there’s not an immediate need for additional hangar space, but that need is expected soon.

“Right now we don’t necessarily need that space because we don’t have all the hangars from the first one rented out yet. There are a couple of people on the waiting list that we waited so long that they moved away,” Hillman said. “We anticipate that by spring, we’ll be needing some hangar space.”

• Hillman said the trash transfer station manager, Doug Adkins, is recommending renewal of a contract for recycling with Didion-Orf Recycling West. Aldermen approved that renewal request.

“They basically provide everything to us that we need, and they pay us $50; we actually don’t have to pay them anything. We’ve had a couple of other offers from people to take it for free, but if someone is actually going to pay us to take it, that is doing well,” Hillman said. “Recycling is not necessarily a hot business right now, so it’s nice to be able to remove this stuff from our transfer station because if we don’t, then we have (Department of Natural Resources) issues.”

• St. Robert Land Use Administrator Alan Clark reported that previously-announced plans to publicize the availability of commercial property on the city’s website have worked well, with eight listings already up and nine on his desk awaiting posting.

“It is doing well; the word is actually getting out there pretty well,” Clark said.

• Clark said the city’s planning and zoning commission is preparing to review the city comprehensive plan and develop a 10-year economic growth plan and a 10-year capital improvement strategy. Three forums are being planned on city parks and recreation to develop a 10-year parks and recreation plan, with one forum within 30 days for the general public, and later forums for children and senior citizens.

“When we put all this information together, we will have our long-range planning document for the city,” Clark said.

Later in the meeting, Mayor George Sanders announced that he would be appointing Clark to the Community Recreation Board, a joint organization of the cities of Waynesville and St. Robert, the Waynesville R-VI School District, and the Kiwanis Club.

• A main file server used by City Clerk Debbie Adkins crashed, Herren reported, and will be replaced since it’s crashed twice in the last few months.

Williams had a suggestion on what could be done with equipment that has frustrated city staff members.

“Give it to the police department; they can use it for target practice,” Williams said.

Herren said the new server that Adkins will use is one that had been ordered for the police department, though the police will still get a new server later.

• Herren said city workers plan to participate in MoDOT’s “Operation Orange” which will change light bulbs for city spotlights and accident lights to an orange color during a safety recognition week from April 6 to 10.

• Herren reported that the city will host a Feb. 20 community leaders award banquet in the St. Robert Community Center.

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