NORTH TONAWANDA – A new state audit pleased city officials with findings they called minor: Fire department fundraisers should be tracked more carefully, and city staff should research the best price before making small purchases, such as a gallon of paint.
“They were minor infractions,” said Mayor Robert Ortt. “There was no misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
The State Comptroller’s Office issued its review last week of city finances from January 2011 to August 2012. It found that the city’s five volunteer fire companies did not give proper notice of fundraisers, such as bingo games, raffles, chowder sales and Canal Fest beer and food tents. One of them lost money and provided free alcohol, the report said.
North Tonawanda’s fire companies, with about 53 firefighters, operate autonomously and do not have a tradition of making formal announcements.
“I don’t even know if the [Common] Council was aware that it should be notified. I don’t know that the volunteer fire departments knew that they were supposed to,” said Mark Dotterweich, city accountant. But, he said, keeping better tabs on fundraisers and requiring notifications from the departments will help the city better understand their finances.
In 2012, the city spent $113,678 on the companies, covering expenses such as building costs.
“The city subsidizes the volunteer fire companies,” Dotterweich said. “The state comptroller thinks we should be notified when they try to raise additional capital.”
The report also found that city purchases of small things like paint, thinner or an extra bag of salt for an icy sidewalk were being made without a standard of checking around to get the best price.
About $42,000 was spent at nine businesses without a record of price checks, the comptroller said.
Ortt said it didn’t make sense to seek bids for such small things. The Comptroller’s Office said it will be satisfied with three price quotes by telephone.
“There’s a fine line we have to walk,” Ortt said.