Less than three weeks after the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office charged two Baldwin Borough firemen with misusing approximately $25,000 from the Pennsylvania firemen's relief fund, the Baldwin Borough Council has begun discussing new auditing practices for its four fire companies.
Though no specific mention was made during Tuesday night's council meeting of the embezzlement charges facing the chief and deputy chief of the Becks Run Volunteer Fire Department, the council members' discussion centered around preventing just such alleged fraud from happening again.
During his administrative report, Baldwin Manager John Barrett suggested ways that borough administration could "better safeguard those public funds, or at least, try to have some level of accountability that might not be there right now."
Barrett said that borough officials typically transfer over the state funding every year directly to the Baldwin Borough Firemen's Relief Association, which then splits it among the fire companies. But after that, Barrett said, borough officials aren't made fully aware of how and why each company spends its allocation.
To remedy that, Barrett suggested having officials from each company turn in periodic budgets before receiving relief funds. He also suggested having borough administration actually write checks on behalf of each company and then debit the companies' accounts accordingly.
"We could pull up actual invoices and vendor checks and say, 'This is where those funds went,'" Barrett explained.
Another safeguard, Barrett said, would be to have third-party audits done of the fire companies every year. Those audits could be combined with either or both of the previously mentioned safeguards.
"Right now, we really don't know (how the funds are spent)," Barrett said, mentioning that the fire companies are required to provide only year-end expenses reports, which are often lacking in details.
Council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk said that he liked all of Barrett's ideas while also suggesting that the costs associated with third-party audits should come out of the relief fund.
As for what the council will ultimately decide, check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch for updates.
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