Local News

Wake County says fire department misused tax money

Posted August 3, 2011 4:59 p.m. EDT
Updated August 3, 2011 6:27 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County fire department could lose its funding if it doesn't account for thousands of tax dollars that county officials believe were used improperly.

County Manager David Cooke sent a letter last month to the Eastern Wake Fire & Rescue Department in Knightdale, asking it to account for $86,959 after a county audit found that the department's Board of Directors used the money to compensate four longtime employees for vacation time that they accrued but never took.

The board has until Aug. 12 to account for the funding. Otherwise, it risks having it deducted from the $1.6 million annual allotment from the county – its sole source of funding.

In 2002, the county implemented a policy that permits county employees to be compensated for up to 240 hours in accrued vacation time if they leave their jobs.

The employees in question had been with the fire department for years before the policy.

Cooke said that the fire department's board asked in May 2010 if it could pay the employees for unused vacation time beyond the 240 hours.

"Our answer was, 'No, you could not use the fire tax money for that purpose,'" Cooke said.

A September 2010 letter reiterated the county's position.

"The contract that we have with the fire departments essentially say that you can't provide compensation more than what we would normally provide a county employee," Cooke said.

In the July 29 letter, Cooke asked the fire department's board to specify where the money came from and whether employees had contracts stating they were entitled to extra compensation.

"I do think it raises an accountability issue," Cooke said. "We take the accountability very seriously, as does the (Wake County) Board of Commissioners."

This is not the first time the department has been under scrutiny from the county.

It is currently repaying a $90,000 debt after a previous audit determined it had overpaid salaries for two employees.

Eastern Wake Fire Chief George Gupton says his department is cooperating with the county.

Ray Broadwell, the president of the Eastern Wake Fire Department Board of Directors, could not be reached for comment.