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|West Monroe assets top $48 million|
The city of West Monroe's net assets increased $1.56 million during the city's 2007-08 fiscal year, according to the recently released audit.
West Monroe finance director Benny Chelette said Tuesday that over the past two years, the city's net assets have increased more than $3 million. Net assets for the city increased $1.8 million the previous fiscal year, Chelette said. Today, the city's total net assets are valued at $48.5 million.
The city's general fund ran a $22,000 deficit during the 2007-08 fiscal year due mainly to an unexpected rise in fuel energy costs.
"It was almost 80 percent higher than what we budgeted," Chelette said. "Fuel doubled, and utility costs in some months actually doubled what they were from the month of the prior year."
"When we budgeted for fuel, gas was probably about $2.60 (for a gallon), and it hit a high of $3.99," Chelette said.
Fuel costs for one city department alone were $35,000 higher than budgeted, he said.
"So, when you're dealing with a $16-million budget, a $22,000 deficit with those expenditures … I didn't think it was that bad, when you really think about it," Chelette continued. "Even though the general fund ended the year with a $22,000 deficit, our net assets increased by $1.56 million."
Net assets include the city's cash, land, infrastructure, investments, and net depreciation.
"So, actually, the city's net worth increased by $1.56 million," Chelette said.
The city also ended the 2007-08 fiscal year with a $5.7 million fund balance. The 2007-08 fiscal year ended June 30, 2008.
"We have a fund balance that's probably stronger as a percentage than most cities in the state," he said. "Some cities don't even have a fund balance."
Net assets for the city increased $1.8 million the previous fiscal year, Chelette said.
"Now, we want to end the year with a big cash surplus, but if you don't do that, you've got to look at your net asset growth," Chelette explained. "If the net assets of a city start declining, that means you're not putting anything back into infrastructure and that's where the alarms should go off."
During the 2007-08 fiscal year, the city transferred $430,000 from its $5.7 million fund balance. That occurred in light of unexpected expenditures for some employees' health care expenses.
Any extraordinary illnesses by city employees that are unforeseen can cause a deficit in the city's health care fund, according to Chelette.
"That's what we had happen this year," Chelette said. "This is maybe the second time since we've been self-funded (with health care) where we transferred money to cover the deficit in the health care fund."
The city has maintained its own health care fund for the past 10 years.
"We had a couple of health care cases that were extraordinary this year," Chelette said. "They are one-time extraordinary-type situations."
On another front, Chelette believes it is important to review how West Monroe spends its money.
This past fiscal year, the city spent roughly $3.8 million on general government expenditures, an increase of $135,000 over last year.
"Public safety - police and fire - are the things we try to emphasize," he said.
During the 2007-08 fiscal year, the city spent $7.2 million on public safety. That was an increase of $475,000 over the previous fiscal year, Chelette said.
"We're not one of these cities that's top heavy with general government expenses - which are things people claim government wastes money on," Chelette said. "The bulk of our expenditures is in public safety."
He said some cities choose to cut expenditures for police and fire protection to save money. That is not what the people of West Monroe want, according to Chelette, pointing out that 44 percent of West Monroe's budget is earmarked for the police and fire departments.
"When you start seeing $700,000 to $800,000 increases in general government, and no increase in public safety, with the deficit growing bigger and net assets actually decreasing, that's what should set the alarm off," Chelette said. "But, the mayor and I are not alarmed that we had a $22,000 deficit in the general fund."