The discovery of an account under the town’s name for the local volunteer ambulance service that elected officials knew nothing about has become a political football.
The account is for the Northampton Ambulance Service, a private, nonprofit organization, and it carries the town’s federal identification number. Town Supervisor Linda Kemper revealed its existence during a recent Town Board meeting.
Councilman William Gritsavage said Kemper’s announcement “blindsided” the board and the ambulance corps.
Kemper learned of the account from an auditor with the state Comptroller’s Office. She said she asked for a state audit of the town’s financial records prior to her election because the last time the books had been audited was in 1994. The state auditor has been reviewing the town’s books since February.
“We wanted things documented and accountability, and we wanted to see if we were doing everything OK,” she said.
Kemper said no one is suggesting any improprieties with the account, but she said the account does not have proper financial controls, in that no one from the town oversees it or signs off on expenditures. The town is waiting for the audit to be completed before taking formal action to deal with the account’s existence.
“It is something we need to work on with the ambulance service and decide how we want to address it,” she said. “It is an oversight that was done so many years ago. The bottom line is, we need to do whatever we need to do to make changes. The town does not have to maintain control of the account.”
The account’s administrators are Jack and Ruth Farquhar. Jack Farquhar is captain of the ambulance corps, and his wife is its treasurer. The corps does not have a board of directors, does not provide reports to the town on the account and does not have a federal form 990 on file, as required of tax-exempt organizations.
Ruth Farquhar said Tuesday the account contains $167,000, accumulated mostly through donations, fundraisers and bequests to the corps. She said the corps uses the account to operate and maintain its single ambulance, which the town purchased in 2006. The corps answers about 200 calls a year and does not charge for its service.
The town pays Jack Farquhar an annual stipend of $7,500 to operate the corps and also puts $17,000 annually into a reserve fund for the eventual purchase of a new ambulance.
Ruth Farquhar said she has records of donations and bequests going back to 1996 and reports on the account at monthly meetings of the ambulance corps.
“I got a book where I put everything down, how much money we get and how much we spent. I got books since 1996, and no one has asked for a report, but I got it,” she said.
Farquhar said former Supervisor Willard Loveless set up the account when he asked her husband to run the corps in the late 1990s. “They all knew about it,” she said.
Gritsavage said Kemper handled the audit finding improperly.
“In the first place, it was very unprofessional for the supervisor to go running to the press when the audit is still under way. She should have gone to the ambulance corps and found out what this account was about,” he said.
Gritsavage, a former Fulton County district attorney, said he looked into the account and “there seems to be nothing wrong with it.”
“There was nothing criminal done,” he said. “The ambulance corps is well run, and they have the account there to pay for fuel and repairs.”
He said “the supervisor should have known about it. There has never been an accounting asked for by the board and the supervisor.”
Kemper said the town does not have an outside agency audit its financial books annually; rather, the Town Board reconciles the books each year. Gritsavage said the town may want to have an independent audit conducted annually as a follow-up to the state report.
Ruth Farquhar also criticized Kemper’s handling of the audit finding. “She should not have put anything in the paper,” Farquhar said. “She hurt [the ambulance corps members] so bad they were thinking of quitting. They haven’t yet, my husband said ‘No, the people need you for the ambulance.’ They were so upset by what she did and what she said. They all worked hard to get where they are.”
Added Gritsavage: “I think it has hurt the ambulance corps, and it could affect the community because it could hinder donations.”
He said the corps’ ambulance is currently in need of approximately $1,800 in repairs and is off the road. The corps has borrowed an ambulance from the Fulton County Ambulance Service in the meantime.