There are red flags.
Until now, almost nobody has been looking — even though the omitted and conflicting information and apparent inaccuracies raise questions about how public money is being spent, as well as how well it's being reported.
In an examination of financial reports filed by volunteer fire and rescue companies in Washington County, The Herald-Mail found potential red flags — areas that raise questions — that the county government has not addressed.
For example, in 2009 alone:
- Seven fire and/or ambulance companies told the county government they got "$0.00" from the county's gaming fund or didn't list the fund as a revenue source at all.
- Hancock Volunteer Fire Co. told the county government that the fire company grossed $116,431 from all of its fundraising activities, including its gaming operations.
But to the Internal Revenue Service, the fire company reported its carnival alone grossed $119,455 and bingo grossed $32,745. In addition, the Washington County Gaming Office reported the company sold $206,775 in tip jars.
- Antietam Fire Co. told the county that Antietam's independent volunteer station in Hagerstown spent $56,771 on "miscellaneous."
That was Antietam's entire explanation for 41 percent of the $137,447 it spent that year.
The Herald-Mail discovered dozens of such red flags that raise questions about the annual financial reports the county requires the 27 local volunteer fire and rescue companies to file.
Six years ago, the Washington County Commissioners publicly declared the importance of the reports. The policy the commissioners adopted called the reports a tool to enable the commissioners to "monitor" how companies are spending public money, to "make informed decisions" about budgeting, and to "ensure confidence" among donors, according to a policy the commissioners adopted.
Since at least 2007, however, the county's Division of Emergency Services (DES) has rarely scrutinized the reports, and hasn't alerted the commissioners to the red flags, The Herald-Mail found.