Financial health of conference is good, leaders say



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Financial health of conference is good, leaders say

By Jenna De Marco | June 14, 2009 {1035}

The financial leadership of the Florida Conference has made the changes the conference needs to endure the economic slowdown and be ready for an uncertain future.

Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson reports on the financial and administrative health of the conference. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1213.

That’s according to Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson, who gave a detailed accounting of the financial and administrative health of the conference to more than 1,700 laity and clergy during the afternoon session June 12 of the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event.

After recounting a range of economic setbacks suffered by Floridians, Wilson acknowledged the difficult situation has also affected the bottom line for many churches.

“The discretionary dollar, previously used by tourists to visit the home of ‘the mouse’ … was used to put bread on the table,” Wilson said. “Our churches felt it first, as many of their members simply were unable to contribute as they had done in the past.”

But in comparing current conference finances with previous and projected budgets, Wilson offered a different and, at times, humorous interpretation on the Florida Conference’s overall financial situation. Wilson used a brief video clip of the cast of “Annie” singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” to make his point.

“For us in Florida, the song lyrics may need to be changed to ‘the sun most probably will come out the day after tomorrow,’ but it will come out,” he said, which was greeted with laughter from conference members.

Conference feels effects of financial storm

Although no hurricanes hit Florida in 2008, helping the conference build its property insurance reserves, the sluggish economy affected the conference coffers in other ways.

Total connectional giving dropped from $20.5 million in 2007 to $19.6 million in 2008. The conference received $1.6 million less than the $9.5 million budgeted for conference apportionments. And investment losses totaled $6.4 million, of which $3.6 million were unrealized and $3.8 million were non-cash losses from changes in accounting procedures, Wilson said. An unrealized cost, he explained, occurs when a stock decreases in value, but hasn’t been sold.

Wilson says the actual cash loss was only $500,000, however, because several ministry areas cut or refocused spending, and undesignated conference reserves were available to cover it.

A drop in conference apportionments paid contributed to the shortfall, Wilson said, with the percentage of churches paying full apportionments decreasing from 89.6 percent in 2006 to 85 percent in 2007 and nearly 84 percent in 2008.

“We’re top heavy (with) seven churches paying 10 percent of our apportionments and 313 churches paying 10 percent,” he said.

Outlook for future looks promising

Overall, Wilson said, the various financial and administrative areas are well-structured and financially sound.

He said apportionments received to date are higher than they were at the same time last year. Strides were also made in the conference’s Ministry Protection area, which deals with property and casualty insurance and loss prevention for local churches.

Loss prevention reserves increased by nearly $1 million across 2008, bringing the total to slightly more than $4 million and erasing almost $900,000 in negative reserves from 2005, Wilson said. That news received a round of applause.

The Florida Conference Council on Finance and Administration recommended to members that the 2010 budget remain flat in order to give as much financial relief to local churches as possible, Wilson said, and they agreed, approving an $18.4 million budget — slightly less than last year’s — later in the session. Salary freezes, staff reductions and role consolidations during the past three years, accessing dormant funds, and reducing travel by using conference calls helped reach that goal, Wilson added.

“We take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of your money, and we are always looking for ways to reduce administrative cost and provide additional funds for ministry, not just when money is tight,” he said.

Wilson said the conference pension and health benefits program is in good shape, as well, with $14.5 million in reserves to fund retiree health benefits for the next 20 years and another $15 million available for future pension deficits if any occur.

Plans for new conference center progress

Wilson said the conference has completed the sale of the current conference center at 1140 McDonald Street in Lakeland and the purchase of a larger building in downtown Lakeland to house the new conference offices. Staff should be in the building next year.

The new conference center will be located in an office building around Lake Ware that’s being renovated by the conference. In an agreement with Lakeland city officials, the street address has been changed to 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., reflecting the Florida Conference’s respect for the multicultural roots of the United Methodist Church, Wilson said.

An architectural illustration of the new Florida Conference Center.
“Every correspondence from the (conference) … will be from 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. for the next 40 years,” he said.

Conference members approved the relocation in a special session in February. The new center will house conference administrative and program staff, as well as the Florida United Methodist Foundation Inc. and the Georgia Florida United Methodist Federal Credit Union.

The current conference building was sold to Florida Southern College for $3.5 million. Those funds and about $1 million from unrestricted, undesignated conference reserves are being used for the purchase and renovation of the building so additional apportionments will not be needed.

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1540.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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