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Audit faults Brentwood Fire Department's record-keeping practices

The Brentwood Fire Department is at 125 Fourth

The Brentwood Fire Department is at 125 Fourth St. (Jan. 10, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

The Brentwood Fire Department kept inadequate and often inaccurate financial records, did not seek annual audits for years at a time and didn't file a required form with the Internal Revenue Service for 2010 or 2011, according to a recent audit by the state comptroller's office.

The audit, released last month by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office, examined the department's financial records for the period of April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2012. The audit called into question record-keeping practices that could raise the risk that "department moneys could be stolen or misused without detection" and which the comptroller's office said could jeopardize the department's tax-exempt status.

Among the audit's findings: that the fire department's treasurer didn't perform monthly bank reconciliations or present bank statements or canceled checks to the department's board of commissioners, and that there were often incomplete or inaccurate records of cash transactions or disbursements.

"This resulted in a bank balance that was about $34,100 higher than reported on the Department's books," the audit reads. "In addition, there was unusual deposit activity that resulted in shortages totaling $1,602. The audit also found that the department was allowing people other than the treasurer to manage the chief's account and the golf outing bank account -- monies from that fundraiser in part boost the department chief's account -- in violation of department bylaws. And the audit report claims that the board of commissioners has not sought an independent audit of the treasurer's records for roughly 10 years.

In a written statement, department Chief Javier Valentin wrote that the Brentwood Fire Department is "an all-volunteer fire department. We note that the comptroller's finding[s] demonstrate the need for stricter control over accounting procedures."

He said the department is already taking steps, including comptroller's recommendations, to address the audit's critiques "to rectify past errors and ensure future compliance with the law in all respects."

In its report, the comptroller's office recommended that the fire department treasurer maintain accurate, complete and up-to-date financial records that document all cash disbursements and transactions and keep supporting documents for each transaction, and prepare monthly "bank reconciliations" to present to the board.

The audit also instructed the department seek annual independent audits of its internal finances, and recommended that all bank disbursements and spending be accompanied by documentation showing that those disbursements have been approved by the board.

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