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Audit: ‘Lax approach’ taken on Orient F.D.’s credit, travel expenses

The Orient Fire District failed to provide receipts for credit card charges and document its spending, according to an audit issued Friday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

The report analyzed cash reserves and credit card purchases between Jan. 1, 2014 and Feb. 28, 2015 and found the the district’s Board of Commissioners didn’t approve certain credit card payments and expenses before they were paid.

For example, 777 charges totaling more than $149,000 — which reflects 92 percent of the total amount the audit reviewed — were paid by the treasurer prior to the board’s approval and 234 charges totaling about $44,700 didn’t include receipts, according to the report. [Scroll down to view the complete audit]

“Due to a lack of formal policies and the board’s failure to properly audit all claims, district officials took a lax approach to use the district-issued credit cards and payment of related charges,” the report states.

In addition, the report outlines the district’s approval of some travel expenses that the state describes as “unnecessary.”

During the 2012 International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists conference in Laughlin, NV, which is more than an hour from Las Vegas, district officials made $4,850 worth of credit card charges the report described as “missing receipts,” “unauthorized,” and “questionable.”

“Two charges totalling $395 appear to be for lodging at a Las Vegas hotel after the conference, but the charges were not supported by receipts or authorized by board resolution,” the report states. “One charge of $134, supported by a receipt and signed for by a chief, was for a hotel room located one half mile from the conference site during the same time as the conference. There was no indication of why this additional room was necessary when lodging was included in the registration fee.”

In an undated response attached to the report, board chairman Joseph Wysocki noted corrective action has been taken and disagreed with some of the audit’s findings.

“The board did in fact pay some credit card bills in advance of the audit in order to avoid late fees,” Mr. Wysocki said. “However, we disagree that the board took a ‘lax approach’ to reviewing them.”

The district investigated all credit charges raised in the report and determined they were “all valid,” he added.

As for travel expenses, Mr. Wysocki said the district has created a travel planner position and revised its policy to require commissioner approval for all travel expenses.

“We will ensure that all receipts are collected and reviewed and that no expense is reimbursed without an itemized receipt or proof of payment,” he said.

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Orient Fire District state comptroller audit