Thursday, August 10, 2006

Accountability Comes To The Firehouse

Volunteer fire laws for public good

AT ISSUE: Accountability raises the bar for all departments

Bills signed into law this week that govern the operation of volunteer fire companies should not be considered a reflection on the good men and women who give of themselves to make sure their communities are protected.

The new rules simply take that protection a step further.

The laws will:
* Require volunteer fire companies to undergo annual fiscal audits.
* Hold public hearings on their budgets before they are submitted to the local government.
* Develop a code of ethics and disclose financial interests of members.
* Require fire commissioners to undergo mandatory training. The measure also provides added benefits and training funds.

The financial oversight is a good idea since volunteer departments operate with public funds. Departments receive a generous amount of tax dollars — grants as well as local funding — to purchase equipment, pay for training, maintain buildings, etc. In most cases, departments would cease to exist without this financial assistance, which is a good public investment.

Maintaining the public trust is critical to the effective operation of any government.

"Requiring annual audits of fire districts and companies will ensure additional financial oversight of taxpayer monies without imposing additional burdens on volunteers," according to the memorandum supporting the bill.

A code of ethics, meanwhile, will ensure that all members of fire districts are held to the same high standard of accountability. And providing training for fire commissioners to keep them current on an ever-changing business is just good sense.

Volunteer fire departments are the backbones of our communities. Their outreach goes far beyond fire protection, and the volunteers who give up precious personal time in service to others already are held in high regard. These new laws will provide the public accountability that can raise the standards even higher.
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Reprinted from the Utica Observer Dispatch

SEE Newsday, Pataki signs firehouse bills into law

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