WHITE BEAR LAKE — Better late than never. The group responsible for protecting the city's most previous natural resource approved a fund balance policy at its March meeting.
For years, city leaders have been asking the White Bear Lake Conservation District (WBLCD) for a policy, perturbed that the board's bank balance is twice its budget.
Communities surrounding the lake, namely White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, Mahtomedi, Birchwood and Dellwood, are assessed an annual fee to support the district's mission to protect and preserve the lake. The city of White Bear Lake pays the most at 45 percent and City Council members have been complaining about the lack of a policy to better steward taxpayer money. Its current fund balance is $200,000.
Approved March 21, the WBLCD resolution points out that the district has a responsibility to continue operations in the event of resources being restricted or unavailable, an obligation to maintain an adequate balance for necessary programs and unplanned costs, as well as a responsibility to avoid excessive amounts of contingency funds.
It was also noted the district has no line of credit to borrow funds for contingencies; its revenue is received sporadically and is not always predictable.
After tabling the policy for a month, the district board agreed to target its year-end fund balance to be no less than 150 percent of the budget for the following year and no more than 200 percent.
Board members felt the district may incur unbudgeted expenses that could potentially be a large percentage of the total annual budget and could act in unison to nearly double the district's total expenses in any given year. Examples of expenses include:
• Eurasian milfoil treatment, which is the district's largest expense. The cost varies according to acres treated.
• Other invasive species that may enter the lake and require treatment.
• Unplanned costs due to legal actions, with the deductible on its liability policy set at $50,000, or roughly half the annual budget.
• Unforeseen expenses due to environmental issues, surveys, increased law enforcement and outside professional services.
• A loss of office space that may require payment of market rates. The WBLCD currently has an office in the basement of City Hall.
The policy also noted that the district's revenue may fall unexpectedly for reasons that may include a loss of boat slip fees in the Commercial Bay area due to low water levels, natural disasters, fire or an entity unable to pay; or a contributing community unable or unwilling to pay its annual assessment.
Prior to the vote, Mahtomedi board member Gene Altstatt asked that the maximum amount of the policy be removed, saying "we don't need to box ourselves in with an upper limit."
Dellwood director George St. Germain told Altstatt the cities were looking for a limit. He was backed up by WBLCD attorney Alan Kantrud, who stated the district will get "pushback" from the cities if the balance reaches 200 percent.