Matthew Renda

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June 18, 2013
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Nevada County Supervisors demand accountability from Consolidated Fire

On their way toward approving the $183 million 2013-14 fiscal year budget, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors directed staff to apply greater scrutiny to funds distributed to the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.

Since 1996, Nevada County has collected a percentage of sales tax under Proposition 172, and distributes it to various public safety service agencies, such as the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, the Probation Department and various fire districts, including Consolidated Fire.

Supervisor Nate Beason said the county should require Consolidated Fire to honor a provision accompanying the distribution of funds that mandates fire officials submit an annual report regarding how it will use the money.

“In light of these issues that are going on at this very large fire district … I think we need to redouble our efforts to require the input from these folks on what they’re doing with this money,” Beason said.

“I have no problem at all with helping (the fire district) out if they need it, and I am going to vote for this resolution, but it’s time to shoot some sacred cows around here because it’s taxpayer money.”

Consolidated Fire was the subject of a blistering 23-page report released last Thursday that was compiled by the Nevada County grand jury, which accused the board of collectively failing in their fiduciary duty, violating the public trust and behaving secretively on its way to multiple infractions of open meeting laws.

The board of supervisors voted unanimously to approve distributing the approximately $6 million in Prop. 172 funds to the nearly 20 public safety-oriented agencies.

Consolidated Fire is slated to receive about $285,000.

The resolution authorizing the allocation states that each agency should provide a written summary “of how funds were utilized by the agency or department at the conclusion of each fiscal year.”

Beason said that precept had not been observed for the past five years.

While the board directed staff to require a report from all of the agencies receiving the allocation, Consolidated Fire was singled out.

“It’s really disappointing to see these public services so characterized by dysfunction, and I would hope that they get that together, because their job is to serve the community,” said Supervisor Terry Lamphier.

The grand jury report states, “(The) Board of Directors is dysfunctional and is wracked by discord, acrimony, back-biting and mistrust among board members.”

Along with a litany of malfeasance, the grand jury highlighted a culture of fiscal mismanagement at Consolidated Fire.

The grand jury questioned the credibility of a recent collective bargaining agreement due to the close personal relationship between certain board members and Consolidated Fire’s union leadership.

Lisa LaBarbera, former Human Resources Director at Consolidated Fire, is pursuing a recall of Director Keith Grueneberg, who she claims inappropriately restored concessions the firefighters had given away to help the cash-strapped fire district.

Last November, the board approved the restoration of salary increases and other benefits to firefighters less than eight months after pleading with voters to pass a tax measure to keep vital services.

Fred Buhler, a resident of the district and former member of the Consolidated Fire’s board, questioned whether the restoration of salaries was consistent with the intent of the tax measure that was passed last April, which added about $52 to residents’ annual property tax.

The grand jury also reported that the Memorandum of Understanding concerning salaries and benefits that was agreed upon in December 2011 expressly prohibited merit increases granted in 2013 from being retroactive to 2012.

At the same meeting where Buhler questioned the use of the $850,000 generated by the tax measure, it was revealed the board failed to establish an account to track the revenues and expenditures derived from the tax measure, a committee to provide public oversight relating to tax measure spending or an annual report detailing how funds were used.

The failure to institute the three key oversight measures were not mentioned in the grand jury report.

The report did state the board “repeatedly entered into financial agreements which are inadequate, incomplete, unwritten and lack protection for the (fire district).”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

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The Union Updated Jun 19, 2013 12:23AM Published Jun 19, 2013 12:22AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.