County to pay $92,500 for audits of fire companies Results won't be made available to the public

December 16, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll County will spend $92,500 on financial audits of its volunteer fire companies this spring, but the results will not be made public even though county tax dollars provide 85 percent of their operating budgets.

County Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates expressed surprise yesterday when department heads told them in separate meetings that the audits -- the first the county has ever required of the fire companies -- will be kept private.

Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman told the commissioners that some fire companies commingle money raised at fund-raisers with county dollars and don't want to reveal their private holdings.

Curfman, past president of the county volunteer firefighters association, said some of Carroll's 14 fire companies fear that public disclosure of the audit findings could hurt fund-raising activities.

Some companies have a lot of money in bank accounts that they plan to use for large purchases, such as fire trucks, he said, but potential contributors might not be aware that those funds have already been targeted for future use.

The county is picking up 85 percent of the fire companies' operating budgets in the current fiscal year -- $3.3 million. County officials plan to cover 90 percent of that budget in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Yates told Curfman that he sees no reason why the county can't make public the audit of the county portion of the money.

"We don't need to know what they've raised privately," Yates said. "But what you give them from taxpayers should be revealed."

Curfman said the county may want to recommend that money raised privately from carnivals and other events be kept separate from county dollars so the audits could be made public.

But Steven D. Powell, county budget director, told the commissioners that such a change wouldn't make any difference.

"The issue is not the percent of county funding," but the fact that the fire companies are privately chartered and are entitled to keep their finances private, Powell said.

The "overall results" of the audits would be given to the commissioners and could be made public, he said, but the actual audit of each fire company would not.

Dell asked whether audits of the library and the community college would be public.

Powell said they would. What matters, he said, is not whether various agencies are run by public boards, but how the agencies are chartered.

"Things get gray pretty quickly," Dell said.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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