Fire District 3 faulted by state audit over bidding on contracts

Island County Fire District 3 failed to comply with state bidding and conflict-of-interest laws on contracts worth $354,000 that fire officials signed in 2006 through 2008, a state audit says.

The audit, written this past November and released last week by the Washington State Auditor’s Office, centered on six professional-service contracts and one public works project.

The audit said the fire district granted contracts to a local electrical contractor who also is a volunteer firefighter in the district without setting any of the jobs out to bid. The contractor was not named.

The report said the vendor was paid for computer, consulting and electrical services totaling about $96,000 in 2006, $57,000 in 2007 and $97,000 in 2008. The audit also said the district had no formal contract with the vendor.

Kenon Simmons, fire district commission chairman, said Monday the district has since separated the two roles of the firefighter-contractor, and in the future will put all such contracts out to bid.

Simmons declined to identify the contractor.

Simmons, who joined the board of commissioners in 2008, said the earlier commission and district staff didn’t realize they were required to put “small works” contracts out to bid, a requirement under state law.

“There was no fraud or intent to fraud,” Simmons said. “We agreed with their findings and have corrected those things. We just need to do a better job of documenting.”

Simmons said the violations resulted when the district began to use the contractor’s services more and more as time went on, and the dollar amounts increased.

He said the firefighter, as a contractor, is entitled to seek additional work from the district, but that in the future all such jobs will be put out to bid.

The audit also criticized the district for failing at times to publish required public notices in a timely manner, and for not being specific when calling executive sessions, closed-door meetings during which controversial issues can be discussed by commissioners in private.

The report also said the district failed to file the appropriate paperwork for an emergency

$19,850 generator purchase, and didn’t provide required public notice regarding an interlocal agreement with another fire district in 2008 for the purchase of self-contained breathing apparatuses for approximately $310,000.

But auditors complemented the district for its response to the report.

“The district was very helpful during our investigation, and we appreciate its commitment to strengthening its polices and procedures,” the report read.

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