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Supervisors threaten to withhold funding to VFDs

Lincoln County supervisors finally have completed 2017 financial reports from all eight volunteer fire departments, though not before they threatened to put a freeze on fire-fighting funds.

Supervisors passed a rule in February 2018 by a 4-1 vote that allows VFDs to conduct annual financial reviews in-house, but is drafted to allow them to bring down swift penalties for failures to report.

Lincoln County Emergency Management Director and County Fire Coordinator Clifford Galey told supervisors last week he had not received completed reviews from New Sight or Zetus departments.

“I was under the impression that we were going to get these in a timely manner and it ain’t happening,” District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey said.

Galey said officials for both departments had brought him the reports but the information was incomplete.

“They don’t have enough information for me to complete them,” he said. “For what I can see, everything is good but I don’t have enough receipts to be able to say that they spent the money correctly.”

Galey said Thursday the VFDs redid the paperwork and submitted it to him some time after the supervisor’s meeting and before the end of the month.

It’s a good thing because Falvey was heated up about the delay and ignoring the board’s timetable.

“That was pretty well cut and dried,” Falvey said. “They had a time frame to get them in. They need to be here and we need to have them done. I mean, we’re talking about 2017.”

Galey said he was giving the departments until the end of the month, then he planned to ask the board to withhold the two departments’ yearly tax disbursement.

Prior to allowing VFDs to complete their reviews in-house, departments were required to get outside reviews costing departments around $500 each. The board’s new rule, ending the two-year practice, mandates any department that misses review deadlines or fails to turn in necessary financial information be required to undergo an outside audit at its own expense — which would cost about $2,000 — or risk losing county funding.

Galey said he has presented all of the departments with a change in the procedure for submitting the review. Departments are to call him when reviews are ready and he’ll pick them up. He gave them each a list detailing what needs to be included and in what order.

Previously, Galey had received envelopes with loose receipts.

“You have to dump them out and spread them out to go through them to match them up to the bank statements monthly,” he said. “I asked them to try to do that for me. Several departments already do. It makes it a lot quicker and easier.”

Falvey was concerned that if departments are having trouble with the 2017 paperwork, the 2018 reviews could be in disarray as well.

District 1 Supervisor Jerry Wilson, board president, was ready to put a financial whipping on them.

“If they’re not gonna do what they’re supposed to do, let’s hold their money until they get it done,” he said.

Supervisors passed the new ordinance Feb. 5, 2018, after learning accountant Barry Shedd was unable to complete his audit of the Heucks Retreat Volunteer Fire Department because some documentation was missing. Shedd stopped work on the audit and returned the department’s books back to the county.

Galey said he investigated Heucks Retreat and completed the review, and supervisors voted to accept his findings once all the figures were justified — but not before amending their procedures to stiffen the departments’ audit requirements.

Between earmarked millage from Lincoln County and insurance rebate money from the state, the county’s eight VFDs share more than $240,000 in taxpayer funding annually. Each department received between $20,000 and $30,000 from the county in 2017, though several departments’ disbursements were docked to make payments on new fire trucks.

Falvey was the lone “no” vote on the board’s new auditing policy. He said he opposed the resolution because he believes every VFD should be audited by an independent third-party every year to ensure unbiased reviewing.