MAHOPAC, N.Y. -- The Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department will take a sizable cut in its town budget payment for 2016, as the Carmel Town Board voted to lower the amount by $550,000 amid multiple probes into missing funds.
The cut was adopted on Wednesday as part of the board's vote on the 2016 town budget.
The fire department will receive $1.2 million from the town, which is down from the $1.75 million that it requested for the budget. The requested amount for 2016 is the same as what the department received for the current fiscal year.
Carmel Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt justified by the funding cut due to the missing funds.
“We felt this was necessary. We felt that it was appropriate under the circumstances,” he said.
The board conducted a review of the fire department's financials for several years back, Schmitt explained, and concluded that the lower funding level was appropriate for the fire department's operating costs.
The state comptroller's office is currently conducting a forensic audit, Schmitt said, which may uncover the actual amount that is missing. It is possible, Schmitt explained, that the maximum amount of missing funds could be up to the $5 million range and may have been removed over a nine to 10-year period.
State Police and the Putnam County District Attorney's office are also investigating, Schmitt told Daily Voice. Michael Klein, the fire department's former treasurer who recently resigned, is a suspect, Schmitt said, although he has not been charged.
Meanwhile, the town's other fire departments, Carmel and Mahopac Falls, each received the town funds that they requested for the budget. The Carmel Fire Department received $530,000, while the Mahopac Falls Fire Department received $753,460.
A portion of the Carmel Fire Department's coverage area is served by a standalone fire district, which has an elected Board of Fire Commissioners and collects its own taxes. The district's taxing portion is $261,281.
Schmitt stressed that there is no intent to slight the fire department's volunteers who respond to calls; he said that the members who serve do an "exceptional job."
Councilman Jonathan Schneider argued that there needs to be change in how the town's fire departments are governed. Currently, much of the town is covered by what are called fire protection districts, which are service areas. Each of the departments, which are private companies that operate as non-profits, contract with the town as vendors. Under Schneider's proposal, fire districts - the term excludes the word "protection" due to legal differences - headed by elected boards would govern each fire department.
“It is my intention to do everything that I possibly can to get three fire districts in this town so that the public will have a say.”
Schneider told Daily Voice that the Carmel Fire Department's territorial split between an elected district and a vendor-based protection district is due to its service area having expanded.
Edward Scott, a spokesman for the Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department, recently told David McKay Wilson, a columnist for The Journal News, that a funding cut would disrupt capital investment in equipment.
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