BURRILLVILLE – An auditing firm hired not only to verify the financial state of the Pascoag Fire Department, but also to clean up the district’s accounting practices, has announced that their client ended the fiscal year in the black.
Baxter Dansereau & Associates, LLP presented the results of the audit to the public at a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 15.
It was the company’s first year looking at the village district’s financial records. Accountants from Parmalee and Poirior had performed the annual audit of Pascoag Fire for at least the past decade.
Chris Toti, chairman of the district’s fire commission, noted that the department asked the firm to take a deeper look at their financial books, and clean up some long-standing issues with accounting practices.
“We had to pay them extra,” said Toti, noting that the work will make the financial records easier to follow in the future, with the status of each line item plugged in month to month. “If something is amiss, it will show up right away.”
The firm was paid $14,500 for the service in the first year of a three year contract, up from $12,500 paid to Parmalee in 2018.
The changes come, in part, in answer to residents’ ongoing questions about the financial state of the district.
“The numbers are in,” Toti said. “I think the audit answers a lot of them.”
Auditor Paul Dansereau had initially told officials that the surplus came to around $6,700, but Deputy Chief Richard Peck has since noted that one charge of roughly $3,200 was mistakenly listed as an expense from the previous year.
The document has not yet been finalized or released, but Toti said the final surplus figure will be $3,546.
The chairman said the cleanup of financial practices is just one of the improvements made to create more transparency since he was appointed to the board to replace former chairmen Robert Keable in May. Toti said the board is in the process of hiring new administrative staff, including a part time business manager and a clerk.
“It’s really about organizational structure,” he said, noting that while everyone working for the department has good intentions, the district was missing some simple business practices. “They’re not experts at this kind of stuff. Their hearts are in the right place.”
The assessment comes in response to questions about district leadership and spending practices over the past year and a half. Difficulties have included both ethics and access to public records violations, and some in the village have accused board members of mismanagement.
In Toti’s assessment, most issues in the small village can be resolved by tightening up basic processes. He notes that despite the need for better organization, for the most part the district is full of, “nice people trying to do the right thing.”
“I can understand the public’s passion,” he said. “Unfortunately, Some of the folks that have helped the district out over the years have gotten some criticism.”
Toti noted that the board has also put a finance subcommittee in place, making the process for handling purchases more formalized.
“I don’t think we’ll have those issues anymore,” Toti said. “There’s going to be checks and balances.”
“Things are hopefully getting more transparent,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re getting a clearer picture.”
“It may not be perfect, but I think we’re getting there,” he added.