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Fire chiefs voice concerns over county’s oversight policies

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Those who preserve property and save lives must also have oversight and controls regarding how they use taxpayers’ money.

That was the thought behind Cherokee County Council’s proposal to impose policies on how the county’s volunteer fire departments (VFDs) are using the funds they are appropriated by the county.

In a meeting with council Monday, the volunteer fire departments voiced concerns over the new financial requirements.

Cherokee County Administrator Holland Belue said the county is proposing that each volunteer fire department pay a South Carolina licensed certified public accountant to review its financial statement, verify the CPA’s work was reviewed by the VFD’s fire or tax board and return a copy of that meeting’s minutes to the county,

“We are here to have (VFDs) voice their concerns and to amend the proposal,” Belue told the firemen who attended the meeting. “This is to ensure financial accountability and to reduce fraud of taxpayers’ money. Some are close to compliance. Some may need more time or have a different solution.”

The stipulation that drew the most criticism, though, was that the VFDs follow the county’s procurement policy, which places rules on purchases by the VFDs.

Under the county procurement policy, for example, a VFD would need to obtain two bids for purchases over $100 but less than $1,000; and three bids for purchases over $1,000.

The Fire Chiefs Association presented their own procurement policy, which mirrored the county’s but didn’t establish spending limits.

Cherokee County Councilman Mike Fowlkes sided with the VFDs.

“It’s redundant to ask them to follow the procurement policy,” Fowlkes said.

Some other firemen suggested the money raised by VFDs through donations and fundraisers should be excluded from county scrutiny.

Other firemen said that each VFD should establish their own financial guidelines for council to review.

Belue said he and his council will discuss the fire chiefs association procurement policy proposal and give feedback to the VFDs.

The county and the VFDs have until Dec. 31 to come up with a financial disclosure method that works for both parties, Belue has said.

Failure to comply with the new financial disclosure method will result in the VFDs forfeiting their county appropriation.

The volunteer fire departments all got a $10,000 boost from $36,500 to $46,500 in the new county budget. The county funds for the Blacksburg VFD jumped to $51,500, up from $41,500.

© Copyright, 2016, The Gaffney Ledger, All Rights Reserved.

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