Cloud again over Titahi Bay brigade

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2013

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The troubled Titahi Bay fire brigade is under investigation again, this time over allegations of hiding money.

The Dominion Post understands the volunteer brigade is being investigated by the Department of Internal Affairs for failing to declare several bank accounts used to hold brigade funds.

Other financial irregularities - including "farewell" cash cheques for departing members - have also been reported, and former and current members are being interviewed.

Titahi Bay is the second volunteer brigade to be investigated by the department this year. In February, the Feilding brigade was ordered to pay back a $8730 lottery grant it obtained from the department by misrepresenting its finances.

It claimed the money was needed for a trip to the World Rescue Challenge Championships in London last year, but failed to disclose that it had received $14,000 for the same trip.

The money has since been returned but earlier this month the department reopened its investigation into the brigade after receiving fresh information.

After initially clearing the Feilding brigade of wrongdoing, the Fire Service is also now commissioning its own independent review.

In an internal Feilding brigade newsletter, Manawatu area manager Mitchell Brown said the review was uncovering a "significant number of issues".

At Titahi Bay, the brigade has been rebuilding after its deputy and chief officer left last year, hurling accusations of wrongdoing at one another.

The dispute culminated in a Fire Service audit that revealed poor book-keeping and undeclared cash payments from fire station boarders.

Acting Titahi Bay fire chief Gavin Dunphy and his deputy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Fire Service assistant national commander Ian Pickard said he did not believe there were any widespread problems with financial mismanagement among brigades.

"On rare occasions, when matters are brought to our attention, we carry out an internal investigation and work with the brigade to resolve the issue," Mr Pickard said.

He stressed that, while each brigade was contracted by the Fire Service, they were also independent charitable entities. The Fire Service was aware of an Internal Affairs investigation into Titahi Bay, he said, but referred further questions to the department.

A department spokesman confirmed another brigade was under investigation for breaches of the Charity Act, but would not comment further.

New Zealand has about 470 urban fire brigades funded through a levy paid by all insured property owners. Most are registered charities and are legally required to file accurate annual reports with the Department of Internal Affairs.

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- The Dominion Post

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