Guest column - city of West Liberty

City of West Liberty continues work with rural fire, ambulance boards

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The first Public Safety Committee joint meeting was held March 9, 2021, when the City and Rural Trustees worked together to review and make changes to the new 28E service agreement drafts, with the understanding that the current service agreements was set to expire on June 30, 2021. The meeting ended with a few items in need of attorney input and insurance clarification.

The next City Council Public Safety Committee joint meeting was then scheduled for March 30, 2021. This allowed time to update the drafts per the meeting, research questions with insurance and budget authority.

On March 30, the West Liberty City Council Public Safety Committee, Robert Rock and Jose Zacarias held a meeting with Mayor Hartman leading the follow up review and discussion of the newly drafted 28 E Service Agreements for the Rural Fire and Ambulance. Representatives from the Trustees included Richard Brand, Mark Madsen, Austin Maas, and Jerry Anderson. Assistant Fire Chief Tom Christianson and Eric Christianson attended as West Liberty fire representatives, and City Clerk Lee Geertz was also present.

One of the items requested to be reviewed by the rural trustee representatives was to have authority for the approval of the city budget approval. The State of Iowa Code for 28E provides the city council is the only governing body who has final approval and who is accountable for the City’s operational budget.

According to Mayor Hartman, “While the city council has final approval on the city budget but has always worked with department supervisors and organizations during the budget process to have input on the budget.” “This will continue and with all of the departments, the city will be sure the budget process includes the Rural Fire and Ambulance organizations in August each year to provide sufficient time for discussions before the city approves the city’s operational budget in March, he added.”

Per Chapter 28E of the Iowa Code, the parties of the agreements are required to create a plan in case of dissolution of the agreements. The Mayor has asked Fire Chief Sickels and Assistant Fire Chief Christianson to review the inventory and make recommendations of the inventory owned if divided between the city and rural communities. This part of the agreement would be an exhibit to the agreements to be reviewed and updated with changes of the inventory as needed.

Trustees communicated the need for additional time to create the inventory list by the Fire Chief. City Attorney Bosten provided a recommendation to all to add additional time to create the list for the exhibit until December 31, 2021, but the agreements could proceed knowing the exhibit will added per the Chapter 28E Iowa Code.

The existing service agreements the city and rural fire and ambulance have an agreed upon amount that is for operational costs and equipment reserve. The city and rural utilize property tax dollars to fund this portion of the agreement. Another exhibit would be created to identify the funding on an annual basis per budget discussions for each organization to have financial information before the Rural sets the tax levy for the rural taxes and city sets the city budget with use of city property tax dollars.

In addition to these items, the City and Rural Fire and Ambulance representatives agreed to place financial operations procedures as subcategories for the rural treasurer and city clerk/treasurer to share financial operational information based on a specific timeline for the organizations to review revenues and expenditures, budget balances and cash balances. This would include the invoices submitted to the rural treasurer for the portion of expenses for operations of the Fire and Ambulance service.

A fiscal year 2020 audit was requested by the rural trustee representatives due to concern with comments of the Fiscal Year 2019 Audit. Mayor Hartman communicated the Fiscal Year 2020 has not been completed due to the Auditor of State (AOS) of Iowa just releasing the Fiscal Year 2019 Audit in February 2021.

The current Certified Public Accounting (CPA) firm contracted to complete the Fiscal Year 2020 will not have the audit completed until the end of June 2021 and possibly later as they are trying to work through many notes from the state auditors. The fiscal year 2019 audit was provided to Trustees President Richard Brand for review and all cities’ audits, including West Liberty’s, are a public record and can be located on the Iowa Auditor of State website.

The fiscal year 2019 comments have stated there all revenues and expenditures are correct with the receipts audited. The comments do include the City, West Liberty Fire Corporation and West Liberty Friends of the Public Library need to create policies and procedures for dual control processing or without these errors are more likely to occur. The other comment states the city will need to create a bad debt policy, collection, and reconciliation policy Ambulance service.

The City Financial Administration has the reconciliation process in place with the third-party vendor for the ambulance billing. The city also utilizes the Iowa Income Offset for collection of ambulance billings. In some cases, if the billing information was unable to be collected at the call and all the contacts have been exhausted then the debt must be written off with city council approval. The fiscal year 2019 audit included dates of July 01, 2018 through June 30, 2019. Therefore, during this audit, the city had not completed these procedures, but have them in place for the fiscal year 2020 audit.

The final discussion was presented by Mayor Robert Hartman communicating the city council consensus was to proceed with the notification of the termination of the existing agreements on June 30, 2021, to adopt the new agreements going forward.

The terminology “terminate” currently is stated in the existing agreements for the fire and ambulance as a requirement of either party to communicate if they request to change the existing agreement prior to June 30th. The agreement states either party will need to provide a termination notice no later than April 1st to request new agreements to be created before the June 30th end date of the agreement. If this is not completed per the agreement, then the existing agreement would roll over for another 12 months.

The mayor nor the city council has never communicated the intent to end the rural relationship or service to the rural communities. On the contrary, the communication provided on several occasions has always been the intent to update the service agreement for compliance purposes and continue the efforts to strengthen the emergency services for the West Liberty and rural communities.

This requires a financial plan to fund the training, management, and equipment for the emergency services. Furthermore, this intent and a request to dissolve the misinformation being generated to the public was communicated by the city’s leadership to the Trustees and volunteers at a meeting at the Fire Station on March 8th.

Mayor Hartman and the West Liberty City Council members Diane Beranek, Jose Zacarias, Cara McFerren, Dave Smith and Robert Rock will continue to work towards 28E Agreements with the West Liberty Fire District and Rural Ambulance Board with the intent of having new agreements by June 30, 2021 to comply and set agreed financial requirements to provide the city and rural communities with the protective emergency services by our professional group of volunteers.

For more information with regards to the City’s 28E Agreements with the West Liberty Rural Fire District and Rural Ambulance Board, City Audits and any other questions with the information provided please contact Lee Geertz, West Liberty City Clerk at 319-627-2418 or email: lgeertz@cityofwestlibertyia.org

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