The Barlow Creek fire hall. Lindsay Chung photo

External review of Barlow Creek Fire Department’s spending shows purchases inconsistent with budget

The Barlow Creek Fire Protection service saw a 30-per-cent tax increase in 2018

A review of the Barlow Creek Fire Protection service budgets for 2016 and 2017 has found that while the expenses were typical expenses for a fire department, the purchases were not consistent with the budget outlined.

On behalf of the Cariboo Regional District, PMT Chartered Professional Accountants LLP completed a review of the Barlow Creek Fire Protection service budgets for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. Their review is consistent with the findings of CRD staff and indicates the expenses in the 2016 and 2017 budgets were typical expenses for operating a fire department, but purchases were made in higher quantities and on a more accelerated timeline than the budget outlined, according to a press release from the Cariboo Regional District (CRD).

“Both our internal review and the review by PMT Chartered Professional Accountants identify that the main issue was that fire department purchases were made that had not been budgeted for in 2016 and 2017,” CRD Chief Administrative Officer John MacLean explained in the release. “The additional spending was mainly on training and development; equipment maintenance and repairs; fire hall maintenance; and the replacement of operating supplies.”

Due to the service’s expenses being significantly higher than budgeted in both 2016 and 2017, the Barlow Creek Fire Protection service saw a 30-per-cent tax increase in 2018 and will see two-per-cent increases in 2019 through 2023.

The Barlow Creek Fire Protection Service taxes, which are based on the assessed value of improvements only, increased by 30 per cent ($82,276 to $106,959 total tax requisition) in 2018 as compared to 2017. The tax requisition is set to increase an additional two per cent in each year of the 2019-2023 Five-Year Financial Plan, as approved by the CRD board on March 22.

Barlow Creek Fire Protection Service residents also pay a parcel tax of $24.78 in each year of the 2019-2023 Five Year Financial Plan, which is unchanged from the 2017 and 2018 parcel tax rate.

The 2018 residential tax rate for the service was $77.75 per $100,000 of net taxable assessed value of improvements only for each property in the fire protection area. This compares to the 2017 rate of $59.81.

The CRD had announced in October that it was hiring an external auditor to conduct a financial audit of the Barlow Creek Fire Department.

The CRD has worked with the provincial government to make the tax burden as manageable as possible by allowing the service to recover the deficit over a five-year period from 2018 to 2023, according to the press release, which notes that this mechanism for managing the tax burden is necessary, since regional district budgets are not allowed to include annual deficits in financial plans and budgets and since taxpayers within a given service area are required, by legislation, to pay all costs associated with that service.

“I can understand the frustrations of Barlow Creek residents regarding the tax increase, and we apologize for our lack of oversight,” says MacLean. “We recognize that improved financial management policies and/or systems could have helped us detect these budget overrun issues earlier. While we did take steps to oversee and manage the service’s budget — including the suspension of credit cards and the reiteration of purchasing policies with suppliers — ideally the increased spending would have been identified and managed sooner.”

“We take this kind of financial situation seriously and we do not want to see untimely or unbudgeted spending in our services. We are committed to ensuring that improved financial management policies and systems prevent the reoccurrence of such a budget overrun in the future.”

The CRD is working to improve administrative oversight of its volunteer fire departments by reviewing and improving its financial management systems with all fire departments to ensure better tracking of fire department spending. The CRD is also making sure its budgets accurately reflect the true costs of providing fire department services and that sufficient funds are collected through taxation, and any other available operating revenues, in order to operate the fire departments.

As well, the CRD hired a regional fire services supervisor within the protective services department to more closely monitor and control volunteer fire department spending.

Letters have also been sent to fire department chiefs, vendors and suppliers clearly outlining and reinforcing CRD purchasing policies.

A letter has been sent to all residents within the Barlow Creek Fire Protection Area explaining the financial review of the budget.

The CRD will also be answering questions and providing information when it hosts a multi-agency information fair on Tuesday, May 14 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Barlow Creek Hall at 3801 Trembley Rd. Electoral Area C Director John Massier and CRD staff will be available, along with representatives from various government ministries and service agencies, to provide information and discuss topics relevant to the community.

READ MORE: CRD to hire external auditor to review Barlow Creek Fire Department budgets

READ MORE: Residents to foot the bill for “substantial overrun” of Barlow Creek Fire Department’s 2017 budget

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