Apr. 22—Aiken County Council will be getting some outside help with the investigation it launched in February into the finances and operations of the Wagener Fire Department.
During a meeting of County Council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, County Administrator Clay Killian recommended that someone be hired "to go out and sit down" with representatives of the Town of Wagener "to go through their records."
He said that neither the county nor the town had the staff needed to complete that task "without some guidance."
The committee responded by voting unanimously to authorize Killian to find an auditor to provide assistance.
Sandy Haskell is the chairman of the committee. The other members are Danny Feagin and Phil Napier.
"That makes a lot of sense, to get some outside resources," Haskell said prior to the group's vote at the Aiken County Government Center.
Last November, the Town of Wagener announced that Wagener Fire Department Chief Mark Redd and Assistant Chief George Day had been suspended because of "inappropriate use of social media and insufficient bookkeeping documentation regarding the finances of the Wagener Fire Department."
There was an uproar in the community afterward.
Day told the Aiken Standard that he wasn't aware of any "illegal misuse" of social media by the fire department.
He also said that no funds had been mishandled.
Since then, Wagener Mayor Mike Miller and Redd and Day's supporters have accused each other of wrongdoing.
When County Council unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 16 to conduct an investigation, it directed Killian and his staff to make a written request to the Town of Wagener to provide "all financial records and other records relating to" the fire protection contract with the county, fire fees and expenditures associated with the town's fire department.
Killian said that request was made Feb. 17. The Town of Wagener was given 10 calendar days from that date to reply.
Even though the county received some, but not all of the information, by the deadline, Killian described the town's response as "positive" in early March.
"They have been very forthcoming with the documents they have been able to find," he told the Aiken Standard. "I get the impression that they're trying to fulfill our request and they're doing the best they can to do that."
The county has asked for other information since the original request was made, and Killian told the Judicial and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that some had been received and some hadn't.
As of that time, the county still was waiting on additional documents related to transfers to and from accounts related to the fire department.
"I think it's pretty clear that funds have been transferred, but that doesn't necessarily mean that anything wrong was done," Killian said.
"We have gotten some additional bank statements," he added. "Some of them are conflicting with what we received before."
County Council Chairman Gary Bunker told the Aiken Standard on Thursday that work done by the outside auditor would be "very limited" in its scope and would not involve examining the Town of Wagener's finances as a whole.
Its purpose will be to "trace the use of the fire fees that have been collected from the citizens of the district (served by the Wagener Fire Department) and passed on by the county to the town (of Wagner)," he said. "We just want an accounting of how those fire fees were used. It's not a fishing expedition."