Audit Reveals Financial Trouble At Southtowns Fire District

March 16, 2012 Updated Mar 16, 2012 at 3:54 PM EDT

By WKBW News

March 16, 2012 Updated Mar 16, 2012 at 3:54 PM EDT

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) - New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced the results of an audit done on the Orchard Park Fire District. It shows the district lacked authority to finance the formation and operation of non-profit corporation set up to provide emergency rescue and first aid services.

"Our main point with Orchard Park is that the fire district has to account properly for taxpayer funds, and having a private ambulance service receive financial support from a government entity does not adhere to what's required by New York State law," DiNapoli said.

The fire district, which is publicly funded, was using money from a non-profit they developed to fund this ambulance service. It added up to more than a million dollars.

"Ambulance service is certainly important, but if its going to be a private entity providing it, we need to be sure we're not mixing taxpayers dollars with a private entity," DiNapoli said.

The audit also showed that the district improperly granted service credit under its Length of Service Award Program to volunteer firefighters for driving ambulance for the non-profit, which is also not accepted by the states standards.

"Once it's a private entity, they are not entitled to that type of service credit so they need to straighten out their account," DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli said it was a merging of two entities, which is not allowed.

"It does lend itself to abusing taxpayer dollars. If it does lend itself to start an ambulance service through a private entity that needs to be segregated and handled totally separately, and that's not what was done, they need to correct that," DiNapoli said.

Since this story first aired on "Eyewitness News at Noon," Attorney Michael Chelus for the Orchard Park Fire District reached Eyewitness News, and explained the ultimate goal of the non-profit is to work with the fire department to save taxpayers money but more importantly to save lives.

Pairing the public fire district with the non-profit emergency services has cut response time down below four minutes. It has also decreased the tax rate.

As a result of this audit, the Orchard Park Fire District will not be parting ways with the non-profit company, but they will be making changes to satisfy the New York State Comptrollers recommendations while still fulfilling their original goals.

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