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Originally published: 2014-05-08 18:11:08
Last modified: 2014-05-08 18:11:53

County to look at Todd VFD finances

by Allison Haver

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to direct Sheriff Len Hagaman to investigate the financial dealings of the Todd Fire Department on Wednesday.

A few months ago, Watauga County began conducting an audit, which included smaller audits of county fire departments.
When the county's auditors requested documentation from the fire departments, Todd Fire Department was the only one that didn't fix problems addressed by the county's auditing firm Bryce Holder and would not provide the requested information, according to Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller.

"The audits on the fire departments were not full blown audits, and everyone had little problems," Miller said. "I can't think of a single one who passed."

Miller said that while the fire departments are private, nonprofit organizations the commissioners still wanted to "look after county money."

"Todd had the most glaring problems," Miller said. "We worked with them for several months and waited to receive all the documents for them."

Commissioners withheld "a good bit" of money, around $40,000 from the fire department, according to Miller.

"We also started to receive emails and calls from concerned citizens in that area," Miller said.

Several citizens alleged that the department was misusing taxpayer money, according to Miller.

"We have heard things that have allegedly been done that has caused us concern," he said.

Recently, the Todd Fire Department released to the county what commissioners believed to be all the requested documentation needed for the audit.

Miller said that County Manager Deron Geouque released the withheld funds back to the fire department.

According to Geouque, the county provides Todd Fire Department $80,000 to $83,000 annually, which does not include funds from Ashe County.

"I just found out last night (Wednesday) that not all the documentation had been provided," Miller said. 

"There were enough red flags and with email from citizens, we felt it was too much for us (commissioners) to investigate," he said. "That is why we asked the sheriff to step in."

Miller said that he called the chairman of the board of directors on Thursday to let him know about the vote.

"I did call the chairman of the board and he said that he did not believe they had done anything wrong," Miller said.

Miller said he did not know if any wrongdoing was actually being done and that he was not trying to judge or accuse anyone of anything.

"They are not a county agency," Miller said. "They receive county taxpayer dollars, but they are not a county agency, we do not have direct authority over them."

Miller said that Todd Fire Department could do whatever it wanted as long as it is within the confines of the law.

"We asked for this investigation to make sure they are within the confines of the law," Miller said.

Todd Fire Department Fire Chief Chris Welch and Sheriff Len Hagaman could not be reached by presstime.