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DiNapoli's office faults Mount Sinai Fire District for raising taxes after overestimating its expenditures

The Mount Sinai Fire Department building on Mount

The Mount Sinai Fire Department building on Mount Sinai-Coram Road Credit: goggle map

Mount Sinai Fire District officials unnecessarily raised taxes more than 4 percent over a four-year period after overestimating expenditures by more than $300,000, state auditors said in a report released last week.

The district, which runs business operations for the fire department, also failed to seek bids for about $27,000 worth of purchases, the office of state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in the report released Wednesday.

In a written response to the comptroller's office, Joseph Tacopina, chairman of the Mount Sinai board of fire commissioners, said the district had made changes to its accounting methods and in the way it seeks bids for goods and services.

In an email, Tacopina said the overestimates occurred in part because of fluctuating costs for fuel and other expenses.

“The Mount Sinai Fire District works each year successfully to cut costs and conserve the community’s tax dollars,” he wrote. “This is despite all the mandates imposed by [New York State] and the federal government.”

The report said state auditors examined district finances from January 2015 to December 2018.

Auditors found the district had overestimated its own appropriations during that time by a total of $312,554, an annual average of $78,139. Most of the erroneous expenses were for unused vehicle repair contracts, overestimated fuel costs and unattended training conferences, the report said.

District officials then transferred what they thought were unexpended funds to reserve accounts, the report said. When they realized the reserve accounts were depleted — because there were no unexpended funds — they raised taxes for three years by a total of $64,000, for an average annual tax increase of 1.4 percent, according to the report.

Tacopina's written response, included in the report, does not explain why the district overestimated expenses. He said the board in March adopted a resolution to annually "carry over a reasonable unrestricted fund balance."

"The board will be more diligent in the documentation of the specific intentions for any year-end appropriations transferred into those established reserve accounts," Tacopina wrote.

The report also said the district did not always obtain enough quotes for goods and services provided by vendors. Auditors found seven instances in which the district spent a total of $27,203 without obtaining required verbal or written quotes.

In one case, the report said, the district paid a collision shop $3,125 in June 2017 for repairs and painting of a truck without seeking at least two quotes for that work. District officials had claimed the shop was a "sole source" vendor, adding there were "limited vendors" that could perform the job.

Auditors wrote that, "If there are limited vendors, this would not be a sole source vendor. As such, officials should have been able to obtain the two quotations" required by fire district policy.

Tacopina wrote that the district has since updated its procurement policy to improve documentation of purchases.

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