BISMARCK, ND (AP) — A state audit of a rural fire department in eastern North Dakota found it used state funds to purchase alcohol, food and outings golf course for its volunteers and staff.
State Auditor Josh Gallion said Friday that the Gwinner Rural Fire Protection District spent more than $28,000 in state funds on alcohol, meals and golf trips from 2015 to 2020, in violation of the law of the state. The audit, which was reviewed by the state attorney general’s office, also found that firefighters could not document a dozen of 32 expenses dating back to 2018.
The state auditor predicted that the department’s undocumented purchases could total more than $300,000.
Firefighters in the town of about 1,100 people said the funds used for the purchases came from the sale of raffle tickets and the money was kept in a separate bank account from its general tax fund account.
“We are not using general fund money to purchase the items in question,” the firefighters wrote in response to the audit released Thursday. “Money in this account is used for meeting expenses which include groceries and beverages and are not considered taxpayer money.”
Gallion said any money received by such an entity is considered public money.
“It doesn’t matter if there was a second bank account,” Gallion said. “If it is in the possession of a government entity, it becomes a public fund.”
Gallion said he suspected small fire departments in North Dakota had made similar expenses, unaware that it violated state law. To use money from donations or raffles, volunteer “strengthening” organizations could be created to handle the money in favor of departments, a move that may not violate state law, but may nonetheless require legal review, he said.
Gallion said his agency intends to launch an education campaign to inform departments “so that we can help these entities better understand the issues.”