The Office of Inspector General for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, has issued a report that identified $28 million in questionable spending by volunteer fire companies, including $8.5 million that the OIG concluded was misspent. The report covers a ten-year period between 2013 and 2023, and goes on to recommend some major changes, including the consolidation of fire districts and volunteer fire companies.
A 23-page summary of the report was issued by the OIG on November 8, 2023 and attributes the financial irregularities to an overall lack of accountability by the individual fire companies. Among the shortcomings, the report identified:
- Experienced fire persons did not necessarily posses needed experience to run the business of a VFC, (i.e. they lack training to design and implement proper fiscal controls);
- VFC board members did not necessarily possess needed experience to exercise and maintain formalities associated with and expected of corporations;
- VFC boards and/or fire chiefs were unaware of restrictions on using public funds;
- VFC boards and/or fire chiefs were unaware of or failed to understand terms of contracts with the Parish; and
- VFCs did not have policies or had policies that failed to provide a basic level of internal control.
While the 12 fire companies are called volunteer fire companies, each has a substantial number of career personnel. In fact, four of the 12 volunteer fire companies have no volunteers, and only one of the remaining has more volunteers than career personnel. The reports cites numerous payroll issues and concerns about falsified payrolls. The financial concerns included that fact that fire companies:
- Used public funds to pay bonuses;
- Used public funds to purchase flowers and pay for parties;
- Used public funds for restaurants and food;
- Used public funds to pay for personal prescriptions;
- Used public funds for non-employee expenditures, like cell phones; and
- Wasted public funds on late fees.
- The Parish paid $5,603,802 to a non-existent entity, which was transferred to a VFC and spent.
Five of the 12 fire companies were no longer in good standing with the Secretary of State’s Office because they had not filed annual reports.
Here is a copy of the report.