Municipal audit shows CVFRD improving its financial procedures

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 - 13:55

Staff additions and increased oversight have improved the way the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department handles its finances, according to a recent municipal audit and the department’s new chief.

“Just taking the new job and being the first full-time chief, I thought it would be a good idea to see where we stood,” said CVFRD chief Tim Benningfield, who said he and the CVFRD board asked for the audit when he took over as the department’s first full-time paid chief near the end of 2017.

The audit found the department had made improvements in its cash-handling procedures since 2013. But Michael Chadwiwk, the muni’s Internal Audit director, said more could be done.

“Specifically, there was a lack of segregation of duties regarding controls over accounts payable,” Chadwick wrote.

Benningfield said the items raised by the audit have already been addressed through the addition of an administrative officer, the department’s fourth paid employee. In the past, he said one of the problems the department had was a lack of oversight due to the department’s limited staff.

“Being able to segregate duties and having a second set of eyes on it, just to have that oversight was difficult,” he said.

The audit covered the period from January 2017 through June, 2018, and Benninfield said several of the recommendations made by the auditor — specifically, a segregation of duties for spending funds — had already been addressed with the hiring of an administration specialist.

“It was kind of an easy transition,” he said.

Another item found by the audit was several gift card purchases made by the department. Benninfield said those purchases were made to buy gift cards that would typically be given out as “thank yous” to people who’d helped the department in some way.

“The auditors basically shared with us gift card purchases always raise red flags,” Benningfield said.

CVFRD Board of Supervisors chair Ronni Sullivan said she was pleased with the results of the audit.

“The important takeaway point is there’s no financial irregularities,” Sullivan said.

In a letter to Chadwick, the board wrote that each item flagged in the audit had been addressed through steps such as increased segregation of duties, a new check authorization policy, more internal controls over credit and debit card transactions and a better bill-paying system.

“As a result of the findings, the Board has increased our regular review of the budget, credit cards, and direct debits,” Sullivan wrote. “We have established four new policies that will guide us as we continue to improve these issues.”

Established in 1952, the department covers an area of about 50 square miles and serves around 14,000 people. It’s responsible for fire and EMS services in Chugiak through a contract that last year totaled just over $1 million. The department currently has around 85 volunteers, along with four paid staff members. In addition to a paid chief and administrator, the department also employs a maintenance manager and a training officer.

Benningfield said it was nice to see where the department stood as he transitioned into his new job, and he’s pleased with how the audit turned out.

Sullivan said the board reviews the CVFRD’s budget monthly, but said it’s always nice to have an outside agency take a look.

“It’s important to pay attention to those things and it’s important to have someone else look at them and put it out there,” she said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call (907) 257-4274

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