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State Auditor on Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District: You're "Poster Child" for Bad Government

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northeastfiredistrict.org
Fire District Chairman, Robert Edwards
Last night Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee held a news conference to release her findings on the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District.

Unfortunately for Montee -- and taxpayers in the district -- the audit is less than comprehensive. That's because the corrupt questionable officials with the fire district refused to hand over key financial documents to the state.

Following is Montee's initial report on the fire district.

Report No. 2009-131
November 2009

Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District

The State Auditor's office is currently in litigation to obtain access to various records of the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District for assistance in performing our audit. As a result of the lack of access to records, we were unable to determine if amounts paid for some services were in compliance with contracts, if invoices were adequately detailed, and/or if some monies spent were for district business.

The district's budget does not comply with state law. The Board prepared a budget for the General Operating Fund; however, it only included disbursement information. A budget was not prepared for the Ambulance, Pension, and Dispatch Funds. In addition, the General Operating Fund budget was missing items required by state law and the Board's approval of the budget was not adequately documented. The audit report for the 18 months ended June 30, 2007, prepared by a CPA firm, contained 25 audit findings and corresponding recommendations, some of which were significant.

Procedures related to the allocation of property taxes and fund accounting are in need of improvement. The district does not properly maintain a general ledger system or maintain records of the various funds as required by state law. For the Ambulance, Pension, and Dispatch Funds, state law requires funds be exclusively used for the purpose to which the tax levies were approved by the district's citizens. The district deposits all taxes received into the General Operating Fund.

The district did not solicit proposals prior to contracting for legal services, and the total spent for legal services does not appear reasonable. Portions of the district's new contract for legal and lobbying services do not appear to comply with Missouri law.

The district did not solicit bids for some purchases and some disbursements did not appear to be prudent and necessary uses of public finds including a 37-inch flat screen television. The district did not prepare Internal Revenue Service Forms 1099 Miscellaneous for payments to the legal officer ($143,366),the assistant legal officer ($89,880), the computer consultant ($37,688) and to a vendor for remodeling ($9,300). The district did not enter into contracts for some services, update some contracts, and maintain copies of some contracts. The district does not have a formal policy regarding credit card usage or travel expenses. The Board has not established a conflict of interest policy, and the district purchased a building for $512,600 with the wife of the district's legal counsel serving as the real estate agent of record.

The district has not developed a written policy regarding cellular telephone use or guidelines. The district provides cellular telephones to the Directors, Fire Chief, Assistant Chief, Chief Deputies, and Chief Medical Officer and the district allows employees to use district provided telephones for personal use. In March 2008, plan minutes ranged from 8 minutes to 3,834 minutes and amounts billed ranged from $46 to $1,055 per phone.

Payroll records and procedures are in need of improvement. The Board paid additional compensation or bonuses to employees totaling $51,000 ($1,500 per employee) and $34,000 ($1,000 per employee) in December 2008 and 2007, respectively. The cost of performing office functions increased from approximately $15,600 during the year ended June 30, 2007, to $43,040 during the year ended June 30, 2008, to $85,520 during the year ended June 30, 2009, excluding overtime costs.

The district contracted for website design and maintenance in April 2007, to provide, build, and maintain a website for the district, without soliciting proposals. In addition, the district hired the same individual as the special project consultant in March 2008, without soliciting proposals. Disbursements for the year ended June 30, 2008, for website design and maintenance did not appear to be necessary uses of public finds, and some appear excessive. Supporting documentation for computer services and consulting disbursements was insufficient.

Prior to the April 2009 election, it appears the district used equipment and personnel to promote a bond issue and a candidate for the Board. The Board placed a $10.3 million bond issue on the ballot for four consecutive elections, at continued cost to the citizens ($53,413), although it continues to be defeated.

District Ordinance No. 97, which authorizes the Board of Directors to fine and ban individuals from future meetings for contempt, disorderly conduct, peace disturbance, and trespassing does not appear to comply with state law. The Board does not have the discretion to determine what actions are or are not disturbing the peace as these are rights or actions ascribed to the police department or sheriff, prosecutor, and court system. In addition, the Sunshine Law clearly intends for all meetings of public governmental bodies to be open to the people and not conducted in secrecy.

Procedures regarding meetings and minutes are in need of improvement. Reasons for closing meetings are not specifically indicated in open meeting minutes or notices posted of closed meetings. Minutes for closed sessions are not prepared. The district did not document how some items discussed in closed sessions complied with state law. In addition, some meeting minutes do not include sufficient detail of matters discussed.

The district did not honor the Firefighters Union Contract. The district entered into a contract with the Local Firefighters 2665 Union in December 1996. In June 2007, the current Board passed a resolution stating the agreement was not binding, and the district would no longer honor the contract.

Other findings in the audit report relate to ambulance fees, receipt controls, capital assets, and vehicle usage.

Read Montee's entire audit (all 57 pages) here.


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