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Spotsy seeks in-depth fire and rescue audit as ‘safeguard’

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Spotsylvania County may hire an auditor to investigate the potential for fraud in the county’s three volunteer fire and rescue agencies.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to seek cost estimates for a “forensic audit” in the wake of felony embezzlement charges against the former chief of the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Former volunteer rescue Chief LeRon Lewis has been accused of falsifying county reimbursement forms for training classes and travel-related expenses, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.

Supervisor Ann Heidig recommended the special audit during her briefing on behalf of a committee tasked with examining county credit card expenditures.

“We’re not trying to be punitive. … We just believe that because of what’s happened we need to have a level of confidence on the part of the taxpayer that the money that they’re putting into the volunteers is being properly spent,” said Heidig, who was appointed to the credit card committee when it was formed in March at the recommendation of a budget review committee.

Heidig described the proposed review as “more in-depth” than a routine audit. “I really don’t expect to find anything,” she said after the meeting. “It’s more of a safeguard.”

The county’s three volunteer agencies are the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue and the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad. At the request of supervisors, county staff will estimate the cost of auditing the entire Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management—not just the volunteers.

County Accounting Manager Becky Forry called the volunteer rescue squad the “highest risk” but added, “I do think we have an obligation to look at the other agencies as well if we’re going to be going down this road.”

Forry told supervisors that the volunteer agencies receive checks from the county every three months for per diems and other expenses, and “we have no form of monitoring those funds.”

Lewis, the former volunteer rescue chief, is accused of receiving reimbursements from both county finance staff and the Sheriff’s Office for the same expenses, Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pearce said. The county repaid Lewis in his capacity as a volunteer rescue squad member while the Sheriff’s Office reimbursed him because of his role as a 911 dispatcher, he said.

Lewis is no longer a dispatcher for the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, Pearce said.

Attorney Mark Gardner, who is representing Lewis, said the embezzlement charge involves an amount less than $300. He said last month that he expects to negotiate a plea agreement shortly.

The credit card committee was initially formed in response to concerns about charges on county credit cards for business meals and other expenses. Heidig said the committee, which also includes Supervisor Greg Cebula and Deputy County Administrator Mark Cole, plans to recommend a new policy by the end of June.

Though she says the group has found no evidence of fraud, it is also looking into the establishment of a fraud hotline for employees to report any issues.

Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin suggested that monthly county credit card statements be posted on Spotsylvania’s website. “If you want to be transparent, I would like to see that happen,” he said.

Supervisor Gary Skinner said that recommendation would result in more work for county staff. “My concern would be when you put it on a public website … who’s going to answer all of those questions that you’re going to get?” Skinner asked.

COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR

Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes on Tuesday agreed to a nine-month contract extension.

Barnes, 64, whose contract was set to expire July 1 of this year, will now hold the position until April 1, 2015.

He confirmed the details of his new deal with The Free Lance–Star after the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the amended contract.

Barnes, who plans to retire when his contract expires, said the revised contract eliminates his car allowance of $600 per month—or $7,200 annually—and redirects that money toward his base salary. His base salary under the new deal is about $173,000 annually, he said.

Barnes has worked for the county—first as its director of waste management—since 1977. He was appointed county administrator in 2009.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2014/05/13/spotsy-seeks-in-depth-fire-and-rescue-audit-as-safeguard/

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