Officials from the state comptroller's office have criticized the Jericho Fire District for awarding contracts for professional services without competitive bidding.
District officials countered that state law does not require competitive bidding for contracts with legal, engineering, insurance and other firms and that it gets good rates by researching before hiring firms.
The audit, which covers 2011 and the first half of 2012, found the district board of commissioners did not always detail approval of contracts in its meeting minutes, which district commissioners said they would remedy.
The audit report suggested "a request for proposal process is an effective way to ensure that the district receives the desired service for the best price."
The auditors looked at five professional service firms that received at least $20,000 during the 18 months. The district did not solicit bids for the firms that were paid a total of $343,289 for insurance, physical training, legal, accounting and engineering services.
According to the comptroller, there was no record of board votes to hire the physical trainer and engineering consultant. And a written agreement for the trainer stated he would be paid $40 per hour, but he was actually paid $50. The board said it discussed the increase and approved the claims. "However the board's approval of this rate change was not documented in the minutes," the audit noted.
Bruce Friedman, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, wrote to the state saying, "the board reviewed the pricing and qualifications of the professional service providers and was confident that it was paying a fair amount for the services obtained."
He said competitive bidding or a request for proposals does not properly gauge specialized expertise, and the board's policy of using interviews and references works better. "We evaluate their proposals and do not pay excessive fees," he said.
Friedman said the board requests quotes for insurance policies every five years.
The comptroller's office responded to Friedman by saying "unless the district evaluates the pricing and qualifications of professionals through a competitive process, the district has no basis for determining that they are paying a fair amount for the services obtained."