Accounting firm will assist Aiken County with Wagener fire fee investigation

·3 min read

Jul. 22—Elliott Davis, an accounting firm headquartered in Greenville, will be assisting Aiken County in its investigation of how fire fees have been spent in the Town of Wagener.

County Administrator Clay Killian said Elliott Davis would be looking specifically at transfers of money from Wagener Fire Department bank accounts to a variety of Town of Wagener-related accounts.

Based on financial records obtained by the county and the Aiken Standard, tens of thousands of fire department dollars were moved to the Town of Wagener's General Fund account between 2011 and 2020.

There also are transfers from the General Fund account to fire department accounts.

In addition, the statements show money moving between fire department accounts and accounts for the Wagener Medical Center, a town park and the town's water and sewer department.

What is difficult to determine from those statements alone is what the transferred money was spent on or if the amounts transferred from the fire department accounts eventually were returned to those accounts in all cases, Killian told the Aiken Standard earlier this year.

Killian talked about Elliott Davis' role in the investigation during a Tuesday meeting of Aiken County Council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee and also in a recent interview with the Aiken Standard.

"We have all recognized, by looking at the bank statements, the transfers between those different funds," Killian said. "But just because the town transferred money doesn't mean it wasn't spent on fire department stuff. We just want to verify what the transfers were for and what they were used for."

Receipts and other documentation will be requested and scrutinized.

"It's not really an audit like in the true sense of the word," Killian said. "It's officially called agreed upon procedures. We're going to tell them (Elliott Davis) to look at certain things and they are going to do that. It is not a comprehensive audit of the town."

Once Elliott Davis begins its work on the investigation, "I don't think it will take them very long (to complete)," Killian said.

Elliott Davis is the county's external auditor.

According to the firm's website, the company has "a team of nearly 750 dedicated and strategic professionals throughout the Southeast."

Volunteer fire departments in the county assess the fire fees in their fire districts. The county collects the fees from taxpayers and then distributes them to the fire departments.

The fees are supposed to be used by the fire departments for operational expenses such as equipment purchases, utilities, fuel for vehicles and firefighting supplies.

Wagener's firefighters traditionally have been volunteers.

The county launched an investigation into the Wagener Fire Department and the Town of Wagener's spending practices related to the department in February.

County Council unanimously approved a resolution to conduct the probe, which included making a written request for Town of Wagener and fire department financial records.

That action followed controversy in the Town of Wagener after the town suspended and then terminated Wagener Fire Department Chief Mark Redd and Assistant Chief George Day.

In April, Killian told County Council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee outside assistance with the investigation was needed.

He said that neither the county nor the Town of Wagener had the staff needed to complete the probe "without some guidance."

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