Clallam Fire District No. 2 receives back small portion of state-estimated overpayment to 3 former employees
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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It has received a value of $10,058 back.
Former Fire District No. 2 Chief Jon Bugher received $123,539 in accumulated, untouched sick and vacation leave when he retired in December 2011.
He should have received between $19,318 and $23,159 for the accrued leave, according to the state Auditor's Office.
The district said he was overpaid $10,058.
Bugher agreed to repay half the $10,058 and work off the other half as a district consultant, Chief Sam Phillips said.
“We respectfully disagree with the audit findings on the amount of overpayment,” Phillips said.
Bugher was not the only Fire District No. 2 employee who was overpaid upon retirement, according to the audit.
The audit report, completed in November 2012 and issued Feb. 11, determined that Bugher, former Deputy Chief Mike Oakes and former District Secretary Joan Noal were overpaid a total of between $167,412 and $171,252.
The overall audit covered 2009, 2010 and 2011 but also reviewed accrued leave paid in 2012, when Noal retired.
“It was following up on an earlier audit,” Auditor's Office spokesman Thomas Shapley said. “It made sense to look and see if the earlier problem had been corrected.
The leave cash-outs “were not supported by district policy,” according to the audit.
Oakes and Noal paid nothing back.
“We had no legal means to request reimbursement,” said Phillips, who became interim chief in 2011 after Bugher retired and permanent chief in February 2012, eight months before Noal retired.
Kelly Collins, the deputy director of state and local audits, said the agency did not require that the amounts be repaid and determined no crimes were committed.
“We wouldn't classify this as fraud,” she said.
“It was just really hard to tell what exactly the number should have been based on what was in place and what the uncertainties were. The district didn't have clear policies or procedures or practices.”
Shapley said the district was free to pursue repayment on its own.
“The district does not need us to go after that,” he said.
The district, formed in 1943, covers 85 square miles surrounding Port Angeles and has an approximately $800,000 general fund budget for 2013.
“We did not suffer any operational setbacks” because of the overpayments, Phillips said.
New district policies cap both accrued leave and the amount of leave that can be carried over from year to year.
“We have systems in place to prevent this from happening again,” Phillips said.
Said Collins: “Going forward, it looks like they are on a much better path.”
District commissioners are seeking a levy lift lid lift of 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $6.50 per month — $78 per year — for the owner of a $200,000 home, in the Nov. 5 general election.
The measure would continue funding for four full-time firefighter-emergency medical technicians.
Here's what Bugher, Oakes and Noal received when they retired and the overpayments, according to the audit report, which was anonymously mailed to the Peninsula Daily News:
■ Bugher, who retired in 2011 after 17 years and received $123,539, was overpaid between $100,381 and $104,221.
■ Oakes, who retired in 2010 after eight years as deputy chief, received $79,185 and was overpaid by $61,900.
■ Noal, who retired in 2012 after 17 years as district secretary and received $14,880, was overpaid by $5,131.
The district's previous audit, covering 2006-2008, noted that Bugher and Oakes had a potential accrued leave liability upon their retirement of approximately $41,537 as of Dec. 31, 2008, according to the newest audit.
Bugher, whose contact information was unavailable, is a Clallam County Master Gardener.
A message for him to contact the PDN was left Wednesday at the Clallam County Washington State University Extension office, which administers the Master Gardener program.
After the message was delivered, Bugher said “he's not interested in talking to the newspaper,” Extension Director Clea Rome said Thursday.
Oakes and Noal could not be reached for comment.
“We found the district did not consistently track leave earned or used by the deputy chief, chief and secretary,” according to the audit.
“No one consistently tracked the amount of leave employees earned and used or reviewed it for accuracy. . . This should have been done by the secretary, who managed payroll, and been monitored by the chief or board.”
The Board of Commissioners “also reviewed disbursements and payroll, allowing these cash-outs to occur,” according to the audit.
Fire district board Chairman Tom Martin and Commissioners David Whitney and Dick Ruud did not respond to requests for comment.
Phillips alerted the state Auditor's Office about the cash-outs, he and Collins said.
“When I assumed this role, I looked at these things, and something did not look right,” Phillips said.
“What I was concerned about was the number.”
The city of Port Angeles' cash-out policy was revised in 2012 to limit cash-outs to one per year after a PDN investigation revealed the city spent $1.4 million over nine years compensating 205 employees for unused leave.
The largest checks were cashed upon the end of employment, typically retirement.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: August 22. 2013 9:26PM