Rules for Missouri Ambulance Districts
Rules and enforcement
No expenditure of public monies shall be made unless it is authorized as provided by law (67.080). Not a single cent of public money can be spent until a budget has been formally adopted following procedures and including the contents set out in the statute (67.010). The statutes are clear on this point. Unless a formal resolution to adopt a budget has been accepted by a majority board vote before the beginning of the fiscal year, no funds can be spent (67.030; 67.080). There are no budget police nor inspectors general making sure every one of the state’s political subdivisions complies, but that does not mean this requirement cannot be enforced. AD funds are public money.
Every political subdivision must designate someone as budget officer (67.020), and that person must prepare a proposed budget for the board. Logically, this should be the secretary or treasurer — maybe the EMS chief. Everyone connected with the AD must furnish to the budget officer any facts or figures requested. The proposed budget is given to the board, which may, as often as necessary, return it for revisions before adopting it (67.030). The budget officer must attest to the fact that preparation and adoption procedures were conducted in the manner prescribed by law (67.060).
The budget law does not specify the AD’s fiscal year. The AD statutes (190.055.1) mandate that the AD’s board defines the first and subsequent AD’s fiscal year. Many ADs use the calendar year as their fiscal year; however, some ADs follow the July-June fiscal year also used by other local governments, while some ADs follow the October-September federal fiscal year, and a few ADs use a November-October fiscal year to best match local property tax receipts (property taxes are due Nov. 1 and past due Jan. 1). A decision to set or change an AD’s fiscal year should be in consultation with the AD’s accountant and/or auditor.
At a minimum, the budget must have these five elements (67.010.1):
- A budget message pointing out changes from the prior budget;
- Estimates of revenue for the coming year, the year currently in progress and the previous year;
- Estimates of spending for the coming year, the year in progress and the previous year;
- A list of note payments due the coming year and report of balances remaining; and
- A summary.
The budget may use cash on hand at the beginning of the fiscal year, but the budget must balance (67.010.2; 67.030). It is acceptable (and recommended by the state auditor) to leave cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year.
Generally, auditors will advise their clients to have cash on hand to pay at least three to six months of operating expenses. Excessive amounts of cash on hand could bring criticism, because it becomes difficult for the board to justify the taxes levied if the AD is perceived as hoarding cash. There are legitimate reasons for holding more cash, such as a “rainy day fund” or to purchase land or replacement vehicles with cash accumulated over several years. The board should work with its attorney, accountant and/or auditor to establish “funds” to properly set aside monies for these types of purposes.
Much of the budget will be based on previous years’ numbers and the budget officer’s best estimates. How much revenue will come in is unknown, and the current year’s total spending is incomplete. The last solid figures will be from two years ago. Because of this, budgets are subject to revision as the budget year progresses. Neither the budget officer nor the board can anticipate everything that will happen 13 or 14 months in the future.
Budget forms are available from the Office of the State Auditor. However, these forms may be more complex than ADs will want because they are designed for counties. Designing your own simple budget form is quite acceptable.
Failure to adopt
If the board fails to adopt a budget by the start of the AD’s fiscal year (67.030), the last-adopted budget remains in effect until the board approves a new budget (67.070). This means spending for whatever purpose cannot exceed the amount allotted in the last budget, until a new budget is adopted.
As a practical matter, the budget has to be adopted before property tax rates can be set, which is by Sept. 1 or Oct. 1 (67.110; 321.250) — otherwise, how can the board justify the rates?
Any increase in spending over what has been budgeted during the course of the year must be approved by board resolution (67.040). The resolution must state in written form “the facts and reasons making the increase necessary.” Internal transfers may be made that shift money from one fund to another, as long as they do not put the budget out of balance and money that was collected for one purpose is not used for another. Total spending can be no more than revenues received plus any balance on hand at the year’s beginning.
The board should receive monthly budget updates as part of the treasurer’s report. Regularly monitoring the budget can make it possible to find ways to save money, expand existing programs or add new ones. It is best to amend the budget, if necessary, before the end of the year, so that it balances.
While Chapter 67 mandates keeping records for three years (67.060), the local records retention manual adopted under Chapter 109 designates budget documents as a permanent record to be archived indefinitely (GS003, Local Records Manual).
Any purchase in an amount greater than the year’s anticipated revenue plus balances on hand requires voter approval of a bond issue. To pass a bond issue requires an exceptional majority, usually two-thirds of the voters. Once a bond passes, it becomes a lien against all taxable property in the AD.
To budget for bond debt retirement, a separate Debt Service Fund (DSF) budget must include the year’s installments and interest payments on the bonds as well as any miscellaneous expenses for maintaining the separate sinking fund as well as bond banker fees for distribution of installments and interest payments to bond holders.