By ROB W. ANDERSON
To help provide answers to several questions posed in a special meeting held last month, members of the Peggs Volunteer Fire Department unanimously voted to seek a review of its financial records during Wednesday’s regular monthly business meeting.
Allegations of misuse of funds at the special meeting held in late January prompted some members of the volunteer fire department to call for an audit. This will be first financial record review, or audit, for the Peggs VFD, said Fire Chief Roger Fine.
“This department’s never been audited in 30 years,” he said.
Assistant Fire Chief Brannon Holman reported during the January meeting that he had discovered some inconsistencies in use of the department’s funds, which are made up of three accounts that include a general fund and two county tax funds. The financial records Holman presented last month suggested that Fine may be using VFD money to purchase items, like a weed eater, for personal use. At the time, Holman said “rumors” of Fine’s alleged misuse of funds prompted his visit to the county clerk’s office to review the financial documents.
“I’m not accountant, but something is getting covered up here,” he said. “It’s not right and I want to make it right.”
After a lengthy discussion about how far back to go and what accounts should be reviewed, the board voted to hire Tahlequah Certified Public Accountant Alan Chapman to review all three financial accounts for the July 1, 2011 - June 30, 2012 fiscal year at a per-year fee of $1,750.
Fine said the department’s county tax funds, which include the maintenance and operation fund and capital outlay fund, have already been reviewed, but wants all the records on the table.
“Let’s just have [Chapman] do them all,” he said. “If that will satisfy everyone, then we probably need to go ahead and do the audit review.”
During the conversation about the hiring of a CPA and the costs involved, Holman told board members that he had contacted a Locust Grove CPA to determine costs and was informed that financial review approved in Wednesday’s meeting would be not considered a true audit.
“He told me that since we haven’t had an audit in several years, this won’t really be considered an audit. It will be considered a review and a starting point for an audit,” he said. “Every account [needs to be reviewed]. Fuelman - all of them, and Roger is the only one that can call Fuelman to get the itemized tickets. He’s the only one who has a signature on the account.”
Because the department is small and can’t afford extra costs, the board opted for Chapman’s CPA service as other bids presented per-year costs of $2,500 and $2,800 for the financial review. Fine said he supports the need for the audit, but doesn’t believe members of the Peggs community want department funds used to pay for a true audit.
“If you actually did an audit on this fire department, you would have to go back 30 years, and I don’t think the people in the community want to pay $1,750 for 30 years,” he said. “But to get a beginning point, you would have to start 30 years ago. If we could get this audit review, which will cover all of our accounts, then we could go from there and everything will be out front.”
Board secretary Jamie Cole said the VFD can’t afford extra costs, but would like the review to cover the necessary information to answer the allegations made in January.
“We understand the need, but we also want to make sure this fire department is operational from a financial resources perspective,” he said. “I just would like to make sure whatever happens, it gets all minds clear this one go ‘round. If one year does it and it costs $3,000, I’m tickled pink. If we go more years and it’s $6,000, so be it. This is my position, if I was to support this, I want to go far enough back to clear the air, but not spend an exorbitant amount of money. I think others may share that same position, and they may not.”
Cole added that Wednesday’s decision should not reflect the board’s intent for future actions regarding another audit.
“Even if we decided something tonight would be it or not it, the board could make another action a year from now to decide to go back another year at that point if nothing was found,” he said.
“There’s nothing to say that a year from now we won’t be able to do something different than what we say we’re going to do a year from now.”