A money dispute between the El Dorado County and local Fire Agencies is on its way to resolution.
At issue are overcharges to the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) by the El Dorado County Fire Protection District and the Diamond Springs Fire Protection District. According to Daniel Nielson, Director of HSSA, the overcharges amounted to $640,000 owed by El Dorado County FPD and $21,000 owed by Diamond Springs FPD over the years 2006 to 2009.
Both fire agencies are part of the El Dorado County Emergency Services Authority Joint Powers Authority (JPA for short). Member agencies include fire departments in Cameron Park, Diamond Springs, El Dorado County, El Dorado Hills, Georgetown, Garden Valley, Latrobe, Mosquito, Pioneer, and Rescue along with Cal Fire Dispatch. However, the overcharges only apply to El Dorado County and Diamond Springs FPDs.
The two agencies were notified several years ago that audits had turned up overcharges. Nielson said the amounts in question were due to overcharging for staff time and were simply errors on the part of the agencies concerned.
County Fire Chief Bruce Lacher agreed, saying that because they have staff working for both the fire district and the JPA, there were errors made in tracking their time and in making appropriate journal entries. The overpayment amount grew to such a sizeable amount because it took several years before the fire agencies were notified of the problem.
The issue was brought to a head recently when a letter dated Feb. 16, from Nielson reminded JPA that the $661,000 needed to repaid so that the issue could be brought to a close, previous audits finalized and accepted, and audits for the years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 allowed to proceed. The JPA was given until Feb. 26 to resolve the issue, which included payment/reimbursement of the $661,000 and finalization of the audits in question.
At a special JPA board meeting on Feb. 23, members approved the final audits for the years 05/06 through 08/09 with the understanding that the overpayment issue remains. However, it was noted that Diamond Springs had already settled what they owe. To address the remaining overpayment, a committee was appointed consisting of Fire Chiefs Greg Schwab and Tom Keating. They will meet with the county to hammer out the final overpayment owed by El Dorado County FPD.
Coming to an agreement, however, may take additional time since the amount is in dispute. El Dorado County FPD Fire Chief Bruce Lacher said when first informed by the county of the $640,000 overpayment, the agency did its own internal audit and found the amount to be only $225,000. They then hired an outside auditor and he came up with an overpayment amount of $379,000. The meeting with the county will be to finalize the amount owed.
“We aren’t disputing that we owe the money,” said Lacher. “Only the amount.”