A state audit cited unauthorized spending at the Baldwin Fire...

A state audit cited unauthorized spending at the Baldwin Fire District.  Credit: T.C. MCCarthy

The state comptroller's office audited the Baldwin and Locust Valley fire districts and discovered unauthorized, inappropriate and undocumented spending, according to reports released in June.

Auditors from Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's office reviewed 279 credit card purchases made by the Baldwin Fire District between Jan. 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, the report stated. Of those purchases, 80 of them — totaling $16,909 — did not include "adequate supporting documentation" and were approved by the Board of Fire Commissioners without itemized receipts.

The district's policy requires itemized receipts and for expensed meals. A list of the personnel must also be submitted, according to the audit. If the meals occur during a travel period, officials use the federal per diem rate and anything more than that must be paid by the individual.

In January 2017, three board members went to a conference in Orlando, Florida, the report stated. Two of them incurred $5,982 in total for lodging booked through a travel agency — the package included tickets to theme parks — even though the district's rules require the district administrator to make conference travel arrangements. They also charged $1,095 to the district's credit card for meals — despite receiving meal per diems before they left for Orlando.

They reimbursed the district $5,004 in total for the resort costs and $546 for meal purchases, the audit states. The third board member used the conference-recommended hotel and paid $489 in total lodging costs.

The fire district, in a response letter to the audit, stated that the board has updated its policies and will review all credit card claims. District officials could not be reached for comment late last week.

In Locust Valley, $8,396 worth of 12 conference and travel expenditures — from a total of 31 claims for $16,091 — were not pre-authorized by the board during the audit period of Jan. 1, 2016, and Oct. 31, 2017, the report stated. District policy requires preapproval. 

The Locust Valley Volunteer Fire Department on Buckram Road, seen...

The Locust Valley Volunteer Fire Department on Buckram Road, seen here on April 30. 2015. Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Other conference and travel claims worth $5,080 did not include proof that the official attended the event, according to the report. The district also reimbursed travelers $244 for mileage and parking without proper documentation.

Peter W. Olson, chairman of the Locust Valley Fire District board of commissioners, said the auditors found few financial errors in relation to the district’s $2.2 million budget at the time. 

“They show that we had to tighten up a little bit more with our travel policy, which we did,” he said, noting that the audit recommended getting proof of attendance, receipts and certificates, and they have changed policies as a result. “We were very happy with the results of the audit.” 

The comptroller's reports were released on June 8.

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