|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Money missing from 356 VFD
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – More than $5,000 is missing and unaccounted for from the 356 Volunteer Fire Department’s 2011 accounts, Trinity County Commissioners were told Monday. During their regular meeting, commissioners received a report from Trinity County Auditor Sheila Johnson about problems with the VFD’s finances. Johnson also recommended the county discontinue its annual donation to the department until those problems are corrected. However, she noted in her report she feels the department already is moving rapidly to correct those problems. Among the action already taken by the department’s board last month was the dismissal of its former chief, Jesse Baker. Johnson said she performed the audit of the VFD’s 2011 finances at the request of the department’s board president and reported back to them on Nov. 29. “Normally I don’t audit non-profit corporations like this, but since the county contributes money to them every year, I agreed to his request,” Johnson told commissioners. When she began the audit, Johnson said she immediately began to find major problems. She noted the only people authorized to sign 356 VFD checks were Baker and his wife. She also found more than $5,000 in checks written by Baker to himself. When asked about the checks, Johnson said Baker was unable to provide a reasonable explanation. The auditor also noted the department had a debit card that was being regularly used but that no receipts could be found to explain what purchases were made. In her report, she noted during the first 10 months of 2011, only three payments were made to Citizens State Bank of Groveton on a loan taken to purchase a 1999 F-350 fire vehicle, which was among the equipment destroyed when the 356 VFD’s fire station burned down on July 17. She noted that while 356 VFD had no insurance on the building or its contents, the bank had partially insured the truck. The insurance paid $6,577.50 to the bank, leaving a balance of $33,446.73. Johnson noted that the original loan also was partially secured by a $15,000 certificate of deposit. “I’m not saying that anything illegal was done here – that’s not my job – but I can say there are a lot of red flags,” she told commissioners. While her audit only dealt with 2011, Johnson said 356 VFD officials are currently going through the records for prior years to determine how far back the problem might exist. She told commissioners she made a number of recommendations to the VFD’s board, including requiring three signatures on checks – with no two coming from the same household. Johnson also said the debit card purchases should be limited or strictly monitored and that itemized receipts be requested for all check and debit card purchases. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham, in whose precinct the 356 VFD is located, said he has spoken with several board members and feels they are now moving to correct the problems. “I think you’ll see a positive change and they will continue to report to us on the progress they are making,” he told the other commissioners. “The area the department serves is a long way from Trinity and a long way from Groveton so it is badly needed by the people in the Carlisle and Sebastopol area,” Worsham said. In related action, Johnson asked the commissioners to come up with a formal policy dealing with what will be required from agencies which request or receive contributions or other assistance from the county. At present, the county makes annual contributions to six VFDs and three senior citizens centers. Other action During the meeting, the commissioners also: • Rejected a request from County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Warren for about $2,100 in additional money to cover the cost of a part-time worker to assist with tax collections through Feb. 3. Commissioners indicated they had no additional funds available. • Took no action on a request for a $100 per week increase in the fee the county pays to have the courthouse, annex building and Rock Building cleaned. The county currently pays $645 per week, a figure that did not increase after the courthouse reopened in August after a two-year renovation process. County Judge Doug Page said he would study the situation and make a recommendation about the cleaning service at a later date. • Ratified the redistricting order adopted Sept. 12. The action was required after officials were unable to located the copy of the order signed by commissioners on Sept. 12. • Authorized the publishing of a formal notice regarding the creation of Voting Box 21. That box was set up as part of the redistricting plan by dividing Box 17 in the Trinity area. It will include the subdivisions of Creekside Village, Pinecrest, Trinity Plantation, Woodlands Ranch and Trinity River Oaks. The polling place for the box will be the River of Life Church off Highway 19 south of Trinity. • Ratified the plat maps approved in November for both Trinity Plantation and the Woodlands Ranch subdivisions.