Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said the report wasn’t finalized because it was not yet accepted by supervisors on the three-member Board Audit Committee. A report must be accepted by the committee before it is made public, he said. Supervisors voted to make the report public Tuesday because of interest in its findings.
Stewart cited several questions that the board’s internal audit department would not answer that made the report incomplete, an account disputed by members of the audit department. Citing the unanswered questions and other issues with the county audit department, Stewart said the structure of the department needed to be overhauled.
Stewart and other board members, with the exception of Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), also voted Tuesday to privatize the internal audit department.
Principi voted against the move, saying an outside auditor might not be independent because the contract would need to be approved by county staff members.
John Gray, a former independent candidate who ran against Stewart for chairman last year, called for an investigation into the pension program and said he is suspicious that the audit’s findings weren’t revealed by assuring that the report was considered a “draft.”
“This whole fiasco is nothing but a coverup,” Gray said.
Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee said he and other members of the Fire Rescue Association, which oversees the department, had not been able to get in touch with the pension plan’s administrator. The association requested the audit in November.
“It was a lingering question for a number of years,” McGee said of the pension program’s finances. “This really started out informally, and we increasingly made it more formal on our rescue association agenda and higher on the priority list, especially as we’re seeing the costs for the next year’s budget . . . [saying] here’s a cost we have no control over,” he said.
Among other issues, the pension audit found that the program had little oversight and that the trustees designated to oversee it rarely met. Expected returns in the designated Hartford pension account were also far below expectations, meaning that the “effective use of taxpayer dollars . . . have been consumed at a rate five times greater than anticipated,” according to the audit. That amount translated to $1 .3 million of unanticipated fire department funds going to the program during the past nine years, according to the audit.
Harry Wiggins, chairman of the county Democratic Committee, said that fire officials shouldn’t have been allowed to dip into other fire department funds without express authorization. “I think it’s fraud,” he said.
The Dale City Volunteer Fire Department had not paid $172,617 in expected contributions, and the defunct Gainesville District Volunteer Fire Department had been overpaid $30,215 for beneficiaries, according to the audit. The report says county officials are rectifying those problems.