Audit adds fuel to fire department probe

District of Sooke council authorizes the audit as well as a freeze on new equipment purchases

The Sooke Fire Department will undergo a financial audit as part of an in-depth review by the fire commission.

District of Sooke council last week authorized the audit as well as a freeze on new equipment purchases, except for any needed emergency equipment.

Council also wants any future spending for the fire department to include sign off by the district’s chief administrative officer.

“These steps are necessary to ensure proper financial management and controls are in place, appropriate oversight of the fire department assets is in place, budgets are appropriated according to the district’s policy and procedures, operational matters are appropriately addressed and all relevant provincial statutes are being followed,” said chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan.

The District of Sooke Fire Commission in its first report to council says it has completed it initial review and recommended changes to the fire department budget by reducing the overtime shift budget by $25,000, professional development $18,000 and relief work and payment by $8,000.

It also removed planned equipment replacement of $80,700 and the replacement of squad 1 for $60,000.

Council approved the changes. The funds will be moved to the council and capital contingency funds for future use or after the audit is completed.

But not all councillors were eager to approve the plan.

Councillors Ebony Logins and Brenda Parkinson said they didn’t have enough information to vote with confidence, after Sullivan and fire commissioner Ken Ebbs-Canavan said they couldn’t comment on all the reasons for the budget changes and the audit request due to financial and personnel issues.

“I do not have the information to fully understand why this has happened. I do not have a problem with the audit. I think once the audit is in place and you have all the answers, then you can make an informed decision, but giving us a report and we have questions on what things mean and no answers given, I find it very hard to vote positively for that,” Parkinson said.

Added Logins: “It’s not that we don’t trust what the commission is doing, but it’s just ridiculous to make an uninformed decision.”

Ebbs-Canavan said the audit would answer questions the commission doesn’t have answers for yet.

Logins and Parkinson voted against the recommendations.

The fire commission was established last fall with the goal to conduct “long-term capital planning [with] high level overview,” according to a staff report.

Fire department operations remain with the fire chief.

The audit is expected to be concluded this spring.