•by Stacy Wiedmaier
Southern Platte County Ambulance District board members and public attendees walked into last week’s regular monthly meeting anticipating a decision to set the tax rate for 2007. But due to what some call an error, and others call “playing it safe,” the vote was rescheduled until Aug. 30.
It was business as usual until the board discussed its estimated budget for the coming year and Chairman Bobby Kincaid reminded everyone he was indeed correct when the board budgeted for the many “unknowns” during their first year in existence.
“Now that we have been through this budgeting process, we learned there were many unknowns I warned you about in the beginning,” he said.
Funds plugged into some of the “unknowns” were never touched. A handout listing the district’s estimated budget for 2006 was compared alongside their actual expenses.
Renting a room for meetings each month, telephone and internet hookup, computer equipment and employing a secretary and treasurer, items expected to cost more than $4,000, were never needed to operate effectively. A rate of $10,000 had been budgeted for Mark Hubbard’s attorney’s fees, while only $2,304 was used.
Kincaid continued his stance he has held from the beginning that the district needs to purchase a computer, “for security reasons because we’re all using our own right now.”
The district’s expenses include paying for items such as the monthly bill to MAST providing ambulance service, auditing services and election expenses.
The new estimated budget was unveiled, totaling operating expenses of more than $506,700, compared to around $426,000 the previous year.
Although Kincaid said during his presentation the board “was able to tie down the costs pretty close this time,” one item was immediately questioned.
“What is this contingencies and community support item listed at $25,000?” asked board member Dick Cull.
Although board members already receive attendance fees for each meeting if they accept them, Kincaid explained a new idea, allowing “additional compensation” for hard work.
“These elected members do more hard work for this district than people know,” said Kincaid. “Our secretary and treasurer positions (Marte Zirschky and Ron Wheeler) especially have time-consuming duties. This possible $25,000 is just being discussed right now. It would provide extra compensation for each board member, not exceeding $1,000 per year.
“We’re saving money on their duties. Believe me, I’ve checked. If we hired a secretary, it’s not $10 an hour or $100 a month. This community support would go to places like the local law enforcement agencies to help them purchase needed defibrillators that are $7-800 apiece.”
Wheeler joined the conversation stating he has also checked into costs of hiring a part time treasurer.
“I can guarantee you I spend at least 20 hours a month on my duties,” he said. “Hiring someone at $150 an hour gets more expensive.”
As Kincaid yelled at members of the public to keep quiet until the public comments section, Cull reiterated his approach that the $25,000 contingencies item should be cut from the budget immediately and an excellent reserve would still be available.
“We must establish a reasonable budget before we vote on a levy,” said Cull. “Why would we do this backwards?”
Based on the current 14 cents tax levy, the yield for 2007 would total $648,920 because of an increase in assessed valuation. Zirschky proposed setting the levy at 9 cents.
Kincaid has said the district's carryover balance is $200,000, a surplus he said should be reduced.
“Folks, think seriously about dropping the surplus,” said Kincaid to the board. “We owe it to the taxpayers because we have the money. My message to you is that we can reduce this levy tremendously.”
The current levy is 14 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The board's budget posting proposed dropping the levy to 11 cents.
Kincaid went onto remind board members not all taxes are collectible and the Platte County collection rate is 92 percent. He said the bulk of tax money arrives in November and December.
“This didn’t happen to us last year (not collecting), but you never know, it could happen this year and we need to keep this fact in mind,” he said.
Parkville resident and city employee Deb Hammond stood during the public comments section to address the board. Some of her thoughts induced applause from the audience.
“There is a lot of pork in this budget,” she said. “An estimated budget is set at $506,000 and it doesn’t have to be this way. It makes me sick. And why should you pay an elected official for their service? If being the board secretary takes too much of your time and you don’t have the stomach for it then step down. It’s called public service.”
Hammond also questioned whether the board is portraying open government when they posted the meeting’s agenda in three places she said few people would see it. Instead of posting at Parkville’s City Hall, it was placed at the Price Chopper, library and Fire Station No. 4. By law, it must be posted in three separate district locations seven days before the public hearing.
“This public hearing is not valid,” Hammond accused. “You chose not to post the notice in the papers and it has not met the seven day statute since the amended agenda was posted. It’s been six in fact. Did you really want the public to be here tonight? You have not legally given them enough notice to set this levy right now.”
Hammond contended the deadline for posting the notice was Aug. 8 and once the modified post was made on Aug. 9, the count could not officially start until the next full 24-hour day. While board members repeatedly told Hammond they were not in error and said, “That is your opinion,” Cull motioned to postpone setting the tax levy.
“Should we do this to be on the safe side, or are we forced to put this decision off?” questioned board member Fred Sanchez.
Hubbard advised there was no harm in coming back to set the tax levy another night, and taking the “belt and suspenders approach,” was safer when board members questioned the legality of the public hearing.
“If we set this rate tonight, we may have to add another $10,000 to attorney’s fees on your budget,” Hubbard noted half jokingly. “It’s just not worth it to go ahead with this. I would be the only one making any money.”
Sanchez was the only board member to vote against postponing the decision, yelling “No!” Loudly.
“I refuse to be bullied by anyone or anything,” Sanchez stated. “I’ve never yet received a complaint from my constituents. We’re spending taxpayers money to save lives. People keep undermining this board. I was prepared for this. There will be more of them organized and quite verbal at our next meeting.”
The board voted 5-1 to postpone the public hearing until Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. inside Fire Station No. 4. A budget work session will take place Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. where the public is welcome to attend but not able to participate. A vote on the budget will not be taken until the public hearing.
After the meeting was adjourned, Beverly Kincaid, the chairman’s wife of Farley, stood to call out Hammond, stating, “Do you feel better now, bitch?”
Later asked for comment on the outburst in front of four members of the press, Mrs. Kincaid stated:
“I don’t normally talk that way. I was provoked because she attacked Marte. I didn’t scream it because my voice doesn’t carry. Deb was the one to make an issue of it and repeat it three times aloud," Mrs. Kincaid said.
Bobby Kincaid informed The Landmark Sunday that he felt uneasy about postponing setting the tax rate and he called both the Missouri State Attorney General’s office and an outside legal consultant Thursday morning. Both advised him the board could have legally held the public hearing and subsequently chosen a tax rate when it was originally scheduled.
“I was sure postponing this was incorrect,” said Kincaid. “I was advised making a small amendment to the posting does not affect anything. Not only was our agenda posted for the allotted seven days, it was up for eight.
“If you make the initial posting in the morning, then that day counts. As well as the day the meeting is held. The thing I hate about this is how we now have to spend more of the taxpayer’s money for legal counsel and to meet again in two weeks. We could have had this set and done with.”