IR fire company willing to discuss IRSD reimbursement

Date Published: 
February 2, 2017

The Indian River Volunteer Fire Company this week responded to the Indian River School District’s request for the reimbursement of $4,900 related to two items that were the subject of questions under a recent State audit of the district’s accounts.

The fire company, based in Oak Orchard, near Millsboro, didn’t indicate a willingness to write a check or to tear up a bill. But the school board said this week that they were encouraged by the IRVFD’s perceived willingness to work through the matter, which involves part of the price the district paid the fire company for an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and the value of a district-owned projector reportedly in use by the fire company.

IRSD Board of Education President Charles Bireley received the IRVFC’s response on Jan. 30 and presented it to the school board during an executive session on Jan. 31.

The letter, sent by the IRVFC’s attorney, was very short and to-the-point, Bireley said.

“They’re willing to resolve to this matter to the satisfaction to the district, the fire company and the public at large. We all think this is a step in the right direction,” Bireley told the Coastal Point.

“Basically, what it says is the fire company intends to fully cooperate to resolve the matter at hand,” Bireley said. “They’re requesting some additional time, which we’re going to grant.”

It sounds like the IRVFC will take the time to investigate the matter, then discuss it with the IRSD, said Acting Superintendent Mark Steele. At least, “That’s kind of the way it was perceived by the board last night.”

“I think the board is looking at everything as a whole, working very closely with the auditor to make sure everything we’ve done is the way we need to do it,” said Steele. “In the next few weeks, we’re really looking to have something to show [the State Auditor] we’re where we need to be.”

The school board wrote to the IRVFC on Jan. 18, requesting $4,904.98 reimbursement for costs related to two items that were uncovered by Delaware’s Auditor of Accounts report from last autumn.

Most notably, that includes the IRVFC’s net profit of $4,565 for acting as a middleman for the sale of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to the district.

“IRVFC purchased the ATV in June 2015 for $14,500 [and] paid $435 to a signage company to customize the ATV with the Sussex Central High School logo and school colors,” the board wrote. “The District then purchased the ATV from IRVFC for $19,500 in July 2015.”

The audit had pointed heavily to the “blind trust” that it said the school district had placed in former CFO Patrick Miller, which it said had contributed to money being questionably spent, inappropriately spent or incorrectly processed.

As the president of the fire company, Miller also appeared to have helped IRVFC by overpaying for the ATV.

“Given the readily apparent conflicts of interest between a decision-maker involved in this [ATV] transaction at IRVFC and the District, it is clear IRVFC unfairly profited from this transaction,” the board wrote.

“Additionally, the audit also suggests an overhead projector purchased by the District for $339.98 is being utilized at IRVFC,” for which the board has also requested reimbursement.

“We look forward to resolving these issues amicably. Your response and/or reimbursement is requested no later than Jan. 31, 2017, at which time this matter will be turned over to the District’s attorneys,” the board had concluded in its letter.

The board did not mention Miller’s apparent use of school funds to purchase IRVFC discount cards as gifts for IRSD employees.

Board Member Leolga Wright abstained from signing or voting on accepting the IRSD’s letter, since she serves on boards for both the IRSD and IRVFC.

The school board has given no indication of their next step for other possible reimbursement requests.

Also president of Boys & Girls Club of Oak Orchard/Riverdale, Miller oversaw finances for both organizations when the IRSD granted $32,500 to it for various education programs over the past five years.

The auditor pointed out that some of those federal funds were intended for use in special-education programs. The club provides afterschool and camp activities for children, but there is no indication they were using the money for specialized support.