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Audit finds fault with fire district finances

The Brentwood Fire Department is at 125 Fourth

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

The New York State comptroller's office has cited a list of issues related to its audit of the Brentwood Fire District, including unsound budgeting practices that resulted in a huge undesignated surplus and improper use of firefighting vehicles.

Michael Poveromo, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said the board recognizes its mistakes and is working to make lasting changes.

"We've taken a lot of their recommendations seriously, and we're continually working on their recommendations as of today," Poveromo said. "It's all what's perceived by the taxpayer. We want them to have a good feeling about us, so we want to do the right thing."

Audit results released last month spanned Jan. 1, 2007, to Dec. 31, 2011, and showed that the board consistently overestimated expenditures and underestimated revenue, resulting in a $5.2 million surplus at the end of 2011. Despite that surplus, the district overrode the state-mandated 2 percent property tax cap and raised taxes by 12 percent.

Officials also had no written plan for the extra millions in the budget. "There was a reserve fund we had for [renovating] outlying firehouses," Poveromo said. ". . . They were wondering why we had so much money put aside" with no earmarks for its use, he said.

Since then, Poveromo said, the board has created a capital improvement plan for renovating firehouses.

The board also pledged to make better use of an expensive fire department management system called RedAlert that logs member attendance at fires and events. "We spent all this money on RedAlert in 2005, and we weren't using it to its potential -- we're a lot better than when we first started," Poveromo said.

The audit also indicated that the board had failed to distribute its adopted code of ethics to members. They also did not adopt a policy for proper use of firefighting equipment, and during the audit period, "members of a district fire company used a fire fighting vehicle to attend a community event without board approval," the audit read.

A taxpayer complaint cited in the audit said political campaign literature was distributed at this event. "We thought that would be good for the community. Would we do it again? We'd have to really look into it and make sure everybody's on board," Poveromo said. "We just put ourselves in a bad situation, and it's not going to happen again."

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