State Comptroller Critical of Bridgehampton Fire District

The two new vehicles in the Bridgehampton Fire Department's fleet, a fire police truck and a tanker truck. Photo courtesy of the Bridgehampton Fire Department

An audit by the New York State comptroller’s office has faulted the Bridgehampton Fire District for not complying with general municipal law for its length-of-service award program, for not keeping adequate records, for allowing shared passwords in a computer system that managed the award program, and for not adhering to its own policies governing purchasing practices.

State officials reviewed 20 invoices for purchases totaling $160,592 for public works contracts or goods each costing more than $5,000. Those would have required at least two verbal quotes, in the case of materials, or written quotes, in the case of public works contracts, from different vendors, according to Bridgehampton’s policy. Multiple quotes were not solicited in 12 of these instances for purchases totaling more than $100,000, according to the audit.

“District officials generally did not document their reasons for not soliciting written quotes, as required by their policy,” the audit reads. “Officials told us that they used certain vendors without soliciting quotes because they preferred to use the same vendors the district has always used or preferred to use local vendors. … By giving preference to certain vendors, there is an increased risk that district officials are not effectively guarding against favoritism, extravagance and fraud.”

With the length-of-service award program (LOSAP), state auditors alleged Bridgehampton’s method for administering the program’s “points” system did not fully comply with state law. Volunteers earn points for responding to emergencies, attending trainings, serving on standby and other activities in order to obtain the LOSAP benefit when they turn 65 years old. The state audit said records kept in 2016 for 15 active members were not adequate enough to support to support 917 of 1,176 points earned. The audit also found duplicate and incomplete points entries; evidence of points that were never recorded; and some entries that lacked signatures of the volunteers who allegedly were present to earn those points. The audit found one engine company did not record any LOSAP points at all. The audit also found members had been allowed to share accounts and passwords to enter points into the computer software system that maintains the LOSAP system.

“As a result, district officials cannot be certain who is making LOSAP entries and changes in the software and whether entries and changes to activity records are authorized or accurate,” the audit reads. “As a result of these deficiencies, volunteer firefighters may not be receiving correct LOSAP points for qualifying activities. Therefore, they may not be receiving accurate LOSAP service credit, which may result in the potential loss of future benefits or in the district incurring more LOSAP costs than necessary.”

In a response to the audit, Bruce Dombkowski, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said the board disagreed with several of the audit’s findings. He justified some of the instances where multiple price quotes were not obtained, but later said, “The district will continue to ensure that it obtains a proper number of quotes as detailed in the district’s procurement policy when bidding is not required.”

Mr. Dombkowski said “the district does not wholly dispute” the findings with regard to the LOSAP program, but pointed out an error in the auditors’ understanding of points allotted for training courses. He also pointed out the district has since switched to a new type of LOSAP program structure, rendering some of the audit’s criticisms “immaterial.”

“The district has taken all things that your office has brought to our attention into careful consideration,” Mr. Dombkowski wrote. “This regards our LOSAP program and our bookkeeping, bids, contract, purchasing and checks etc. …The Bridgehampton Fire District shall continue to stay on track going forward to maintain our records in the best possible way.”