Fire brigade burnt by accounts error

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 21/02/2013

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The Feilding Volunteer Brigade chief says its financial management measures have been tightened after a Department of Internal Affairs investigation found the brigade provided incorrect information on a funding application.

As a result the brigade has been told to repay $8730 to the lottery minister's discretionary fund, overseen by the department.

Feilding Chief Fire Officer Peter Guard said the brigade was acting on advice when it made the application, but he wouldn't say who gave the advice.

The brigade raised money to send a team to the World Rescue Challenge Championships in London last year but its fundraising came under scrutiny after a former longstanding member of the brigade said it received more money than it needed.

As at March last year, the brigade had about $48,000 in seven different bank accounts.

It's understood the application to the discretionary fund failed to disclose other sources of funding or how much money the brigade had in the bank.

Mr Guard said financial practices had improved, including no longer relying on a handwritten ledger book.

"One of the changes that we've made is in the way we are presenting our financials, so it's all done on a spreadsheet," Mr Guard said.

"As a brigade what we're interested in doing is putting a full stop on this and moving on.

"At the end of the day we made an application to the minister's discretionary fund. At the time we believed the information we gave them was accurate with the information we had and the advice we'd been given."

Mr Guard said he accepted the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation.

The $8730 was spent on airfares, he said.

Documents seen by the Manawatu Standard show that about the time the brigade got that money, it also received $12,231 from the NZ Fire Service for "airfares, accommodation and expenses".

Guidelines about the fund say money is available to volunteer brigades unable to get funding from the NZ Fire Service or Rural Fire Authority.

The brigade had also "transferred" about $17,000 in rent money it collects through firefighters living on its premises to the NZ Fire Service.

That money had been held in an account by the brigade, but correct practice was for it to be held by the national body.

Last year regional manager Ian Pickard told Fairfax Media the brigade had wrongly withheld the money, but this week he said the brigade had simply not transferred it over after a change in policy four or five years ago required it to start doing so.

"I guess what had happened there - it has been overlooked," Mr Pickard said.

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The NZ Fire Service last year investigated the brigade's finances and cleared it of any wrongdoing.

New Zealand has about 470 urban fire brigades funded through a levy paid by all insured property owners.

TOO MUCH CASH

Feilding Volunteer Fire Brigade's financials as at March 31, 2012: Seven bank accounts with cash totalling $48,363. Two term deposits worth a total $46,155. 

- Manawatu Standard

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