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Turlock Rural Fire board reviews grand jury findings
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In the wake of a civil grand jury report criticizing the accounting practices of the Turlock Rural Fire Department, the board of directors is taking steps to adjust their policies and bring them in line with the jury’s recommendations.

On Tuesday morning the board of directors began drafting a response to the grand jury, but they are still considering what options to take when it comes to some of the grand jury’s key findings.

The grand jury faulted the fire district for commingling account monies and for not adequately documenting the time and rate of pay for the chief when it comes to administrative work done for the California Emergency Management Agency.

The grand jury received a complaint earlier this year that TRFD Chief Rick Fortado was being inordinately compensated for work he did regarding the assembly of strike teams for the state. California reimburses fire districts that send crews to assist in fighting wild fires around the state. In addition to the monies paid for equipment usage and the firefighters’ reimbursement, the state pays an administrative reimbursement rate of 16.51 percent to each district responding to the mutual aid call. It has been the long-standing practice of the TRFD to allocate the entire administrative reimbursement fee to the chief.

The complaint lodged to the grand jury said the chief was getting too much money, considering that he didn’t actually go to the wild fires. However, the board agreed with Fortado that the work being done to assemble and maintain strike teams deserves some form of compensation. The sticking point is how to determine a fair compensation and how to log the time worked on each strike team call.

The grand jury is recommending that the district “make a formal accounting of the actual hours expended by the Chief while performing strike team administration duties and clearly state the rate at which his compensation will be calculated. All monies in excess of this amount should remain with the district.”

The board was in favor of documenting the time spent, but expressed concern about stating a set rate. Because of the dismal state budget the funds allocated for administrative reimbursements are declining and are expected to do so over the next couple years. If the board assigns one rate, whether it’s hourly or percentage based, it could be outpaced by the actual reimbursement, meaning the board would be paying more money than they brought in on strike team calls.

“It could come to a point where it is upside down,” Fortado told the board.

The board did not make a definitive decision Tuesday regarding the grand jury’s recommendation, but indicated they are leaning towards an option that would allow them to review each incident individually and determine what percentage of the administrative fee would go to the chief on a case by case basis.

The grand jury also made a recommendation that the TRFD create a separate account for depositing and disbursing department funds and reimbursements. The district has been mixing public funds with funds from the volunteer association. The board of directors agreed with the finding and passed a motion to separate the accounts.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.