Accounting exec sees two steps to clarity

April 14, 2012|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU |

Washington County government has “absolutely” been wasting financial information it might have used to spend public dollars more efficiently in the fire and rescue system, a Hagerstown accounting executive said.

“I mean, why collect (the information) if you’re not going to do anything with it?” asked Michael P. Manspeaker, a partner and director of accounting and audit in the accounting firm of Smith Elliott Kearns & Co.

“With more detailed and comparable reports, they certainly would be in a position to analyze and spot irregularities (and) inefficiencies, or companies that might need some assistance in their operations,” Manspeaker said.

“Then you could take it as far as you want ... including doing company-by-company comparisons,” Manspeaker said.

Two actions would go a long way toward having clearer, more useful financial reports from local fire and rescue companies, he said.

The commissioners could adopt a manual specifying how revenues and expenses are to be reported, he said.

The commissioners also could “set a limit on how much, as a percentage (each company) could include in “miscellaneous” reporting categories for both, Manspeaker said.

A yearlong investigation by The Herald-Mail found that the county Division of Emergency Services (DES) was not routinely examining the financial reports the county requires each of its 27 volunteer fire and rescue companies to file every year.

DES had been looking at the reports only if someone were to complain, if there was an investigation or if the office was looking at costs in general. Otherwise, DES was looking only at when the reports arrived, not at their contents, before releasing millions of dollars in funding.

The newspaper found that the reports contained inconsistencies and errors.

Some companies had listed a third or more — tens of thousands of dollars — of their annual expenses on the “miscellanous” line on the county’s report form, without further explanation.

By not setting clear and more specific reporting standards, “the message here is, file the form to get your (county funding) checks,” Manspeaker said.

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