Close examination of the results of the audit of the Copenhagen Fire Service; village meeting to be held | Lewis County

LOWVILLE – Summer audits of the Copenhagen Fire Service by the State Comptroller’s Office and the state’s Office of Public Employees Safety and Health (PESH) revealed inadequate accounting practices and a number of “serious” security risks. The village leadership called a meeting to discuss the results.

“Department officials failed to ensure that financial activity was properly recorded and accounted for, and that money was safeguarded,” the comptroller’s report reads as the main finding of the process.

The comptroller’s audit originally reviewed the fire department‘s books from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, but the period was extended to August 6, 2020, “to review certain disbursements,” the audit report says. final.

Among the issues that led to the state auditor’s conclusion was a lack of board oversight of departmental deposits, disbursements, and accounts, as required by the statutes for departmental funds and the drilling team; late or incomplete bank reconciliations; missing receipts and other supporting documents for payments; and a lack of checks and balances with the cash basis of fundraising activities related to the drill team.

Although the report did not indicate that funds were missing, auditors found that 74 “disbursements” from the department’s seven accounts, totaling $27,334, “were not accompanied by adequate supporting documents”. There were a total of 186 disbursements totaling $110,469 during the audit period.

A savings account dedicated to the purchase of a new fire truck and the drilling crew’s checking accounts were also reportedly not reconciled at all during the audit period.

The way cash donations and deposits were handled also raised flags in part because sequential receipts with duplicates were often not issued for donations by the treasurer and were never issued by the financial manager drilling crew, or financial manager, depending on the audit report. There were no reliable records regarding the source of deposits made to the accounts.

The department’s treasurer throughout the audit period was Nicole Henry Bennett, daughter of the current chairman and former fire department chief, James Henry.

Mr. Henry is also the chief financial officer of the drill team, which is still raising funds so members can continue to judge competitions across the state, although the team has not been allowed to participate in the events since 2019 after a decision of the village council.

As of January 1, 2020, the drill team’s bank accounts were managed by the treasurer with fire department funds made up of taxpayers’ money, although the report found that the chief financial officer was also depositing donations in cash and fundraising proceeds as needed.

In July, Ms. Bennett was charged with first-degree forgery of business records, third-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a counterfeit instrument for allegedly taking $27,000 from her employer, Schwerzmann & Wise, PC, where they began noticing “irregularities” in its accounting in March.

Recommendations resulting from the audit included that by-laws and policies be amended to provide clear direction on accounting in the department and that these by-laws and policies be enforced, including monthly audits of invoices with supporting documentation and reconciliations of accounts by the three-person audit committee which is already required by the current statutes but had not been formed.

Most of the cash accounting recommendations and issues were similar to the findings and recommendations of the 2015 Office of the Comptroller audit for the department, although drill crew funds played a larger role in the audit. when the team was fully operational. Mr. Henry was also the drill team’s financial manager at the time, but another treasurer managed the department’s funds.

The fire department responded to the audit with a copy of its new financial policies, stating: “The Board of Directors is now well aware of its financial responsibilities and will oversee both the Audit Committee and the treasurer to ensure policies are followed. .”

Fire Chief TJ Williams said the audit committee is looking for any missing documentation, as indicated by the state, and that none of the former treasurer’s four family members involved in the department were part of it. of the audit committee.

The security audit by PESH conducted between August 16 and November 9, cited the department for three “serious” violations.

The citations claimed that seven firefighters “did not receive initial firefighter training and education commensurate with the duties the members were expected to perform”; training was not frequent enough — annually for everyone, but interior firefighters should receive quarterly training; and that two firefighters failed to wear their bunker gear while “performing interior structural firefighting” on July 30.

Mr Williams, who was not the chief during the audit period, said that although training is provided regularly to all firefighters, some of the firefighters who have been on the crew for many years have not not received the “initial formation” as it exists. now and that finding trainers throughout the pandemic has been harder than usual.

He also claimed that state training records aren’t always kept for long periods of time and therefore often aren’t accurate for longtime members and firefighters who have moved and changed districts.

The citation for firefighters not using bunker gear while on duty is a repeat of a 2018 PESH safety audit that cited the department for a firefighter not wearing bunker gear at the scene of a fire, although this firefighter was not working inside the fire in this case. .

A special village meeting will be held to discuss the findings of the audits at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the cafeteria of Copenhagen Central School, 3020 Mechanic St.

Both audits were published at the end of 2021 and made public recently.

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