Bill would prevent the state auditor from collecting audit fees from certain local organizations
Legislators from District 28 have sponsored a bill to prohibit the state auditor from collecting fees from any firefighters’ relief association, any rural fire protection district or rural ambulance service district for auditing or reviewing documents.
This comes after an audit found the Gwinner Rural Fire Protection District spent more than $28,000 on alcohol, groceries and golf outings for staff and volunteers between 2015 and 2020 – something the audit said may violate state law, since it considers the money as public funds. In its response, the Fire District said the money was generated by a “gun raffle,” and were not tax dollars collected by the county or the state.
Gwinner is in District 28.
The bill also would make it retroactive to December 31, 2017, meaning the auditor’s office will have to refund the fees.
The lead sponsor — Rep. Mike Brandenburg (R-Edgeley) said not only was the Gwinner Fire Protection District left with a more than $11,000 bill for the audit, the publicity around the audit makes that District’s board look like criminals – which he said isn’t fair.
"I have no problem if the auditor finds something illegal," Branderburg said in an interview. "But they go out there and find some little, itsy-bitsy thing — they bought candy with the wrong fund, they had a golf tournament, and they had a couple of beers, and ate a couple of steaks at the same time. You've got to be reasonable."
But State Auditor Josh Gallion said the state’s Constitution does not allow for these kinds of purchases, which benefit individuals.
"The only time we can spend money on individuals, in accordance with the Constitution, is to aid the poor," Gallion said.
Gallion said he stands by the work of his auditors.
"They did good work, Gallion said. "And in the end, they did find deficiencies that had to be addressed."
Gallion said his agency does not directly receive state tax dollars – it is a special-fund agency, and has to charge local governments for those audits.
A hearing on the measure will be held in the House Political Subdivisions Committee Thursday.