Fire department financials all in to supervisors

Published 9:45 pm Monday, February 4, 2019

Sometimes the threat of withheld funding helps speed things along.

Correct email addresses help, too.

Zetus and New Sight volunteer fire departments were threatened by Lincoln County supervisors at a January meeting with having funds withheld if their 2017 financial reports were not completed and turned in by Jan. 31.

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When the board learned at a Jan. 15 meeting that six of the eight departments had complied, they weren’t too happy with Zetus and New Sight and authorized Lincoln County Emergency Management Director and County Fire Coordinator Clifford Galey to request the two departments’ yearly tax disbursement be held until they were in compliance.

Galey told supervisors Monday that not only have Zetus and New Sight turned in their reports for 2017, but Heucks Retreat and East Lincoln VFDs have turned in their 2018 reports and he’s heard from two other departments planning to turn theirs in next week. He expects all eight 2018 reports to be completed by May 1.

For New Sight, the delay for the 2017 report came because of miscommunication, or rather, missed communication.

Galey said he sent the departments a list of what he needed and how to submit their finance reports to him, but he used an invalid email address.

Galey talked to New Sight’s president after the supervisors’ meeting and resent the directions to the correct email.

“I have a new email address for him now and that won’t be a problem,” he said. “And I put a new procedure in place because of that, when I email them their list I’m also going to text them and tell them to check their email.”

Galey said departments are complying with his request to keep receipts with the bank statements so he can check them quickly. In the past, he has received manila envelopes of loose receipts that needed to be matched to statements. The process was time consuming.

He told supervisors when he checks the reports, he verifies funds are being used correctly. He’s noted a few that made purchases using county funds when they could have used rebate funds and saved some dollars. He lets them know so they’ll be aware of it before the next purchase.

“If they did something wrong, I’m telling them that, too,” he said. “I firmly believe that any auditor could look at any I’ve done and they’d all be in perfect order. You wouldn’t have any problems.”

District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown was glad to hear that.

“That’s what we want because we don’t want them to come back at us,” he said. “I think maybe some of the fire folks don’t know that when they make the mistake it comes back to us, not them.”

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. Zetus and New Sight had submitted reports, but didn’t include enough information for Galey to complete them.

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.

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.

District 1 Supervisor Jerry Wilson and several other supervisors suggested at the Jan. 15 meeting to hold their money until the reports were completed correctly.

District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey said the board took a lot of flack about threatening to hold the departments’ money. He pointed to Galey.

“It was because you told us that you couldn’t get the paperwork from them and therefore the board put that in,” Falvey said. “There was a lot of complaints, that they were going to stop going out on calls and stuff like that because the board was threatening to take their money. We done that at your request, not at our request.”

Galey said he told Zetus and New Sight in January that if they didn’t complete the paperwork they would be in violation of their contract and he’d make the request to have their funding held.