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Comptroller: Middle Island Fire District had flawed budgets

An exterior view of the Middle Island Fire

An exterior view of the Middle Island Fire Department station #2. (October 2012) Credit: Google

For the past four years, the Middle Island Fire District failed to prepare accurate district budgets, according to a release by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office.

From 2009 to 2012, the district's budgets continually overestimated expenditures and generated a $2.5 million operating surplus, DiNapoli said. The district also overcharged property taxes, and miscalculated statutory spending limits, resulting in overspending between $8,900 and $21,500 in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the comptroller said.

Calls placed to the Middle Island Fire District office were not answered.

But board officials agreed with most of the audit's findings, according to the comptroller.

The problems, according to the district's response to the audit, was that "the board did not receive complete and accurate financial information from the treasurer and therefore did not always have the necessary information to effectively monitor the district's budget."

The audit noted that the Middle Island fire budgets were not in the form as dictated by town law. The board said in response that the district was not aware of the prescribed form and would immediately begin creating budgets in the proper form.

The expenditure overestimates arose from the district's practice of not looking at actual expenditures and developing its annual budget "based on the prior year budget, which had overestimated the appropriations from year-to-year," the audit said.

In a similar manner, the "treasurer has not properly calculated the District's annual spending limitation since at least the 2009 budget year. The Treasurer relied on the calculation methods of the previous Treasurer, which were incorrect. The Treasurer did not question the accuracy of the previous Treasurer's calculations," the audit said.

These mistakes mean the district levied too much in property taxes: $8,935 for 2010, $21,358 for 2012, and $21,504 for 2013.

The fire district said in response that while miscalculations were made, the estimated taxes over the limit were actually about $500 or less in the years in question. The board agreed to tighten the budget controls as the comptroller recommended.

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