CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Acting state Fire Marshal Anthony Carrico said Tuesday his office doesn't have the staffing or legal authority to conduct audits of volunteer fire departments' finances statewide, as required under a bill passed earlier this year in special session.
Under legislation (HB103) passed April 17 to provide up to $4 million in subsidies to help VFDs pay workers' compensation premiums for firefighters, Carrico's office is to prepare a comprehensive report reviewing all funding sources for all VFDs, and to assess the cost of Workers' Compensation on each department.
Carrico told a legislative interim committee Tuesday that his office can't do that.
"As far as being actuaries, bean-counters, that's not what we do," Carrico said. "I really wouldn't feel comfortable doing that with my current staff."
While legislative auditors conduct financial reviews of VFDs, Carrico said nothing in the new law gives his office authority to review each department's finances.
"We cannot see anything in the law giving us the authority to walk into a volunteer fire department and say, 'Let us see your books,'" he said. "I believe in full disclosure. I believe these are quasi-governmental entities, and if they're going to be asking for money, they should have full disclosure."
Even if the law granted full access to VFD financial records, Carrico said it would present "monumental challenges" for his office to audit all 419 VFDs in the state, while also fulfilling its statutory requirements for fire safety and fire scene investigations.
"My intent is to make sure you understand the full implications of this law," he told the legislative interim committee.
As part of the privatization of workers' compensation, calculations for premiums for volunteer firefighters went from being based on minimum wage to the comparable salary for professional firefighters on July 1, 2010. That resulted in premiums that doubled or even tripled for many VFDs.