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Fire company criticized in state audit

The Duncansville Fire Company is in hot water after an audit of the department’s state relief funds accused the department of unauthorized and undocumented expenditures, inadequate meeting minutes and noncompliance with prior recommendations.

While Auditor General Timothy DeFoor described the audit findings as “significant” that could result in the potential withholding of state aid, Duncansville Fire Chief Craig Hazlett said he believes the errors can and will be “easily fixed.”

“We are working to resolve everything as we speak,” Hazlett said. “We just misinterpreted some of the guidelines. Everything will be taken care of and resolved soon.”

The 18-page audit report found that the department did not comply with applicable state laws, contracts, bylaws and administrative processes in relation to state relief funds received from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2020.

DeFoor said that one of the findings, regarding untimely receipt and deposit of state aid, was a recurring issue with the department and was noted in a previous audit report.

“We are concerned by the number of findings noted and strongly encourage timely implementation of the recommendations noted in this audit report,” DeFoor stated in the report.

According to DeFoor, the department is accused of not depositing 2020 state aid allocation in a timely manner.

DeFoor said funds the department received from Juniata Township in the amount of $3,084 was not deposited until March 10, 2021.

The tax allocation was distributed by the municipal treasurer Sept. 22, 2020, but municipal officials failed to forward the state aid allocation to the Duncansville Fire Department Relief Association until Jan. 8, 2020, which is not within 60 days of receipt as required by the state.

The report stated that upon receipt of the state aid allocation, the relief association did not ensure the funds were deposited timely into a relief association account.

Hazlett said the department was unaware of guidelines regarding timely receipt and deposit of funds and said that issue will not occur again.

“We have a better understanding of the rules now,” Hazlett said.

The audit report also accuses the department of unauthorized spending of relief funds, stating the department spent $14,272 toward property insurance and service on a fire company owned vehicle.

According to the Office of the Auditor General, costs associated with service on a fire company owned vehicle or insurance on fire company property do not qualify as authorized expenditures.

Relief association funds may only be spent, according to DeFoor, to purchase safeguards to preserve life, health and safety of volunteer firefighters and pay for other operating expenses such as legal fees, rental or purchase of offices, payment of reasonable compensation for employees and the purchase of office equipment and supplies.

“We just spent the money from the wrong account,” Hazlett said. “We didn’t misappropriate funds or anything like that. All we have to do is write a check from our general fund and transfer it into the relief fund, and that issue is resolved.”

According to the audit, the department’s relief association was also unable to provide adequate supporting documentation, such as receipts or invoices, for $16,221 in various expenses throughout the two-year window, which includes vendors on training, supplies, maintenance and equipment.

Hazlett again said the funds were not misappropriated, adding that issues of undocumneted spending have mostly been resolved.

“These are minor book-keeping things that we will have taken care of,” Hazlett said.

The report also stated the department did not keep adequate meeting minutes for its relief association meetings and accused the department of not meeting monthly as required by state bylaws.

The Duncansville Fire Department Relief Association only documented meeting minutes for seven meetings in 2018, two meetings in 2019 and three meetings 2020, DeFoor stated.

According to the report, the meeting minutes provided also did not address all of the financial-related transactions that occurred during the audit period and the minutes were not signed by the meeting secretary.

Issues involving documentation of meeting minutes was another misunderstanding of the guidelines, Hazlett said, adding that the issue will be corrected moving forward.

DeFoor said state aid could be withheld from the department if the audit findings involving unauthorized expenditures and undocumented expenditures are not corrected in a timely manner.

The department’s compliance with the findings of the report will be monitored due to the potential withholding of state aid, and DeFoor stated the department has 60 days to provide proper documentation and verify its compliance to state guidelines.

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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