State Audit: Penn Yan Firefighter benefits records faulted

Gwen Chamberlain

The Penn Yan Fire Department’s Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) was one of 10 programs across the state that was audited last year by the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In a report that was released in early February, auditors said after reviewing records from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2013, the Penn Yan Village Board did not ensure that volunteer firefighters received accurate LOSAP service credits; that the village’s point system was applied in a manner that did not comply with New York State law; that the department’s software system used an incorrect percentage to award points for participation in 2012 and the department did not monitor awarding of points. As a result, seven volunteer firefighters did not receive appropriate credit for the program.

New York State law established the LOSAP system in which active fire department volunteers can earn LOSAP service credit up to a maximum number of years of fire fighting service and generally begin receiving an unreduced service award at an entitlement age set by the municipality. Approximately 600 fire districts and municipalities across the state have an established LOSAP.

The point system that a municipality or district establishes must comply with general municipal law, but not every activity specified in GML must be included in the specific program.

Other departments or districts that were part of the audit are located in Onondaga, Rensselaer, Suffolk, Oneida, Orange, Saratoga, and Erie Counties. Penn Yan was the only Yates County department included in the audit.

Specific findings in the Penn Yan audit include:

• Volunteer firefighters’ point totals were not accurately recorded, resulting in seven not receiving appropriate credit.

• Two firefighters did not receive appropriate credit because they did not participate in at least six drills annually, an unwritten requirement in Penn Yan which is not part of GML activities.

• Two firefighters earned more than 50 points, but did not receive credit.

• One firefighter received credit because records indicated he had earned 50 points when he actually earned 49, so he should not have received credit. Fire department officials could not produce documentation to support one point.

• Another firefighter earned less than 50 points, but was still awarded one year of LOSAP service credits due to an oversight.

• The Penn Yan program used an incorrect percentage (15 percent) of calls in 2012 to determine the points awarded. The point system should have used 10 percent. This resulted in one firefighter who should have earned 56 points not receiving a year of LOSAP credits. The issue was resolved in 2013.

In August 2014, Mayor Leigh MacKerchar responded to the audit’s findings with a corrective action plan, which included new record-keeping procedures, revisions to the point system and a procedure that will include quarterly review and audit of the LOSAP records by the Village Board’s Public Safety Committee.

“We generally concur with the findings in your audit, and thank you for your in-depth analysis of the Village’s LOSAP program,” MacKerchar wrote.