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Friday, February 3, 2023


Nov. 14, 2001 – A federal audit released Wednesday casts shadows on some V.I. Fire Services payroll expenditures, particularly a lump-sum payment of more that a quarter of a million dollars divided among eight former unclassified employees.
The audit by the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Inspector General concluded that long-standing problems with excessive overtime payments persist and have run wildly over budget in recent years.
The report also finds fault with a "high-ranking" department official who failed to submit time sheets but was paid $94,035 over roughly a two-year period.
The Office of Inspector General recommends that the V.I. Justice Department's anti-corruption task force investigate the manner in which the lump-sum payments were processed, "to determine if criminal charges should be brought against any government employees for improper manipulation of the payroll system."
As is customary, the audit does not use names.
The lump-sum payments to the eight exempt former employees were based on a settlement agreed to by the Public Employees Relations Board.
The auditors take issue not only with the settlement agreement but also with the manner in which the payment funds were released to the individuals.
The employees argued they were entitled to the money because of a series of executive orders in the 1990s giving salary increases to specific positions. The Inspector General's Office disputes that claim, noting that an order granting an increase was repealed. At most, the report says, the former employees would be entitled to extra pay for the one month in which the executive order existed before it was repealed.
Perhaps more important is the auditors' criticism of the manner in which the settlement payments were released by Finance Department personnel: without the knowledge of the Finance commissioner and with payroll clerks changing the former employees' records from "inactive" to "active" status.
In general, the auditors found the payments constituted "a significant breach of basic internal controls related to the government's payroll system."
The audit also cites excessive overtime payments to current firefighters. In Fiscal Year 1999, Fire Services paid out $754,010 in overtime, although it had $100,000 budgeted. For 2000, overtime dropped by more than half, to $335,399, but that sum still was 76 percent more than the $190,500 that had been budgeted.
Concerning the Fire Services official who failed to submit time sheets from January 1999 to February 2001, the Inspector General recommended that all personnel be required to document work hours.
Auditors also reported that:
– Fire Services continued to incur electricity charges at the Fortuna and Dorothea fire stations through April of this year, although the Fortuna station was closed in November 1998 and Dorothea was closed in November 1999. No explanation was given as to how the electricity was being used, but the recommendation is to remove the meters.
– Record keeping on the whereabouts of equipment was poor. Out of a sample of 20 items, the auditors were able to track down only 13 using agency records. A 14th item was traced to an inventory list but still could not be located.
– Fire Services often failed to get competitive bids for purchases.
– The agency was not making the required fire safety inspections of businesses every other year and was missing out on fees for that service.
– It did not deposit collections daily.
– It has not used all funds allotted to renovate and improve living conditions at fire stations and to upgrade equipment, despite a great need for these improvements.
In his formal response to the audit, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said Fire Services concurs with the audit findings and is working on corrective actions.

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