State Audit: Ballston Lake Fire District Overpaid 3 Firefighters

BALLSTON – The Ballston Lake Fire District paid $700 each to three firefighters in 2015 for unearned service credits, according to an audit by the Office of the New York State Comptroller.

The firefighters each received one year of length-of-service credits to which they weren’t entitled, according to the audit. The report also showed incorrect tracking of the point system used to compile credits for all 30 firefighters and incomplete record keeping by members tasked with overseeing the program.

The District, which is a separate entity from the town of Ballston, is governed by a five-member Board of Fire Commissioners. One commissioner was assigned to compile member’s activity records and calculate points to be awarded to firefighters toward service credits. The District’s contributions to the credits program, which acts as a pension-like benefit for firefighters based on years of service, consists of $700 per year of service after 2006.

Each district in New York is responsible for its own point system, but there are state limits on the types of activities that can be included in the system. There also are limits on the number of points that can be awarded in each category over the course of a year. For the Ballston Lake Fire District, there were discrepancies in the points awarded to all 30 firefighters in the program, and there were mathematical errors in the points awarded and reported, according to the audit.

Despite the number of discrepancies, only the three previously mentioned firefighters were awarded additional points that resulted in obtaining unearned funds.

According to state law, points can be awarded for training, participation in standbys and sleep-ins, serving in an elected or appointed position, teaching fire prevention classes, attending department meetings and drills, participating in department responses and participating in miscellaneous activities such as inspections.

The District awarded miscellaneous credits in two separate categories, essentially allowing members to earn double the amount of credits from what is legally allowed for certain types of activities. In addition, participants didn’t always document the length of activities, or the start or end times, and the commissioner responsible for recording points didn’t properly code or classify the nature of the activities.

The Comptroller’s office was unable to review the accuracy of points awarded in 2016 because the District didn’t maintain a summary for points earned for the first seven months of the year. None of the inaccuracies cited in the report were identified at the time because of a lack of a review process, the report stated.

The Comptroller’s office recommended the District correct the service credit records for the three firefighters and to work with the District’s attorney and administrator to recover the $2,100 that was inappropriately distributed.

It also was recommended that the District award points going forward in accordance with the District’s rules and statutory requirements. District officials agreed with the Comptroller’s recommendations and plan to initiate the corrective action, according to the report.

The District’s 2015 operating budget was approximately $184,000 and was funded primarily with property taxes. As of December 31, 2015, the District’s assets for service credits totaled $502,258, and its contribution for the 2015 service award program year was $15,837.

The Comptroller’s office examined relevant documentation regarding the District’s points program, including policies and procedures, board minutes and other applicable documentation for the period Jan. 1, 2015 through July 31, 2016.

Click here to read the full report.

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