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East County News Service

February 26, 2015 (Spring Valley) – As a result of an East County Magazine (ECM) inquiry, San Miguel Fire District’s Board voted this week to make its finance committee a permanent standing committee, which means that the committee’s meetings will now be open to the press and public.

Previously, the finance committee was deemed an ad-hoc committee by the district, which argued that it did not need to allow public access.  ECM contacted Californians Aware (CALAWARE), an organization that protects public access under Califoirnia’s sunshine laws.

CALAWARE General Counsel Terry Francke advised that the Finance Committee could be construed as a standing committee subject to the Ralph M. Brown open government act, after he reviewed district records on the committee’s creation.  While the Board disputed that it should be required to open records or prior meetings,  following an ECM request to open future meetings to the public, the Board voted to make the committee a permanent standing committee and do just that.

Directors Ek, Johnston, Kiel, McKenna, McMillan and Rickards voted in favor; Director Vacio was absent.

ECM has previously reported on a state investigation of the district’s finances which found major discrepancies . Specifically, the report indicates the state launched its investigation because the district understated revenues in fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12 by $557,878 and $2,357,252 respectively.  In addition, the state contended that expenditures were over-stated by $827,298 and $987,833 during those two years while grant revenues were overstated by more than $1.8 million in fiscal year 2011-12.

San Miguel has since formed a partnership with CAL-FIRE to handle firefighting services for the district.  ECM asked CAL-FIRE public information officer Kendal Bortissier for an explanation regarding the differences in the reporting of revenues.

Bortisssier says the numbers used in the State Controller’s Office report were unaudited numbers that did not reflect findings of the independent audit completed about six months later.  “The actual independent audit is the official reporting of the District’s financial position,” he said.

The district has not provided details as to exactly why it was off by hundreds of thousands of dollars, or in one case, over $2 million in its initial report--but those bookkeeping discrepancies will cost taxpayers the full expenses of the state's investigation. ECM has asked the District to disclose the cost of that investigation but has not yet received a response.

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