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Comptroller's audit recommends Stafford Fire's directors improve financial management of department

By Howard B. Owens

While finding no malfeasance or misuse of public funds, a NYS Comptroller's Audit is critical of the Board of Directors of the Stafford Volunteer Fire Department for its handling of financial planning.

The comptroller's key findings include inadequate revenue estimates for 2021, 2022, and 2023, a lack of realistic budgets, and no written multiyear financial or capital plan to help guide budget development.

The lack of proper revenue estimates meant the district had extra revenue that could have been better allocated to capital projects, particularly fire truck replacements, the report states.  

In the three audit years, the board failed to include in its revenue estimates funds from farmland leasing, interest income, fire insurance tax proceeds, donations, and fire hall rental. In 2022, that amounted to $36,577 in revenue that wasn't included in financial planning.

"We compared the budget with actual expenses for 2021 and 2022. The operating budget was underestimated by $29,667 (10 percent) in 2021 and $33,298 (11 percent) in 202," the report states.

In response to the audit, Board President James Call said the district treasurer did share more than once the district's truck replacement plan, the comptroller's auditors determined the report was outdated.

The budget for 2023 also did not include a line item for buildings and ground maintenance, which in prior years exceeded $50,000.  

"The Treasurer told us," the report states, "these were errors in the budget and that she corrected them after we brought the omissions to her attention. The Treasurer also provided us with a corrected copy of the 2023 budget. The corrected budget increased the amount budgeted for building and grounds maintenance to $40,000 and decreased the amount budgeted for insurance to $40,000, and further decreased the firematic budgeted amount by $20,000."

Auditors determined that board members were not adequately involved in the budgeting process and oversight of monthly expenses.

The auditors issued these recommendations, which Call, in his letter, said the board will implement.

  1. Review and adopt structurally balanced budgets that contain realistic revenue and expense estimates.
  2. Present the budget to the membership for a vote, as required by the bylaws.
  3. Review the monthly financial reports provided by the treasurer and actively monitor the department’s spending.
  4. Consider having Department officers attend applicable and beneficial training sessions to obtain a better understanding of their duties. 
  5. Develop a written multiyear financial and capital plan to establish long-term goals and objectives for funding and long-term capital needs. This plan should be monitored and updated on an ongoing basis, and any funds already set aside for capital assets should be designated as such by board action.

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