By C.V. Moore
Gauley Bridge’s police department budget has decreased by nearly 80 percent since 2010, the same year a state audit of the town’s financials revealed mismanagement and falsification of records.
The 2010 audit report, released this fall, finds that the town submitted bogus warning citations to the Southern Regional Highway Safety Office to receive grant funding.
“Specifically, warning citations were created that contained duplicative and/or inaccurate information concerning purported traffic stops,” the audit report states.
Doing so with an intent to conceal is a felony punishable with one to 10 years of jail time.
“Records were created to obtain funding from the grant program and then subsequently reimbursed back to the General Fund,” it continues.
The town’s police department is currently under investigation by the West Virginia State Police. Gauley Bridge Police Chief Shawn Whipkey resigned this year.
Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris says a State Police investigator contacted him about a year and a half ago in regard to the Gauley Bridge situation but he has not heard anything further about the investigation.
Gauley Bridge’s budget for fiscal year 2010, filed with the State Auditor’s Office, was $966,195. The town’s population that year was 614.
Nearly 50 percent of the town’s budget was spent on the municipal police department. It was the town’s only expenditure for public safety, a category that also includes fire services.
Ansted, another Fayette County town with more than twice the population of Gauley Bridge, spent 30 percent of its $419,327 total 2010 budget on police protection. Smithers, population 807, also spent roughly 30 percent of its $620,499 budget on police.
A line item in the Gauley Bridge budget that year also calls for an internal audit.
The following year, Gauley Bridge’s police budget decreased by 30 percent to $310,740. It was still almost 50 percent of the town’s total expenses.
Over the next several years, police expenses continued to fall dramatically until the most recent figure of $100,000, which is 30 percent of the current budget.
The State Auditor’s Office ran tests of the town’s compliance with laws and grant agreements for fiscal year 2010 and found several cases of noncompliance, including falsification of records.
The town promises to “strengthen internal controls to thoroughly review any and all documentation prior to submitting to outside grantor agencies.”
The town also violated the grant agreement with the Southern Regional Highway Safety Program by not completing the required number of traffic stops to receive reimbursement of overtime.
The program requires officers to generate two documented, written contacts per hour of patrol and one DUI arrest for every 10 to 12 hours of patrol.
The town lost its grant funding and is now under criminal investigation. They promised to reimburse any amounts owed to the grant agency.
The auditors also discovered that the town did not keep adequate accounting records, including a list of capital assets, payroll liabilities, and financial statements.
Town employees didn’t have the knowledge or experience necessary to avoid mistakes in the financial statements, creating a significant potential for undetected error, the report states.
As a result, investigators, in effect, could not gather enough evidence to come to any definitive conclusions about the town’s financial activities.
The report also says that the municipality failed to properly maintain the municipal court docket and record all the traffic citations issued.
Judgments were not made in some cases and the town did not receive a portion of those revenues.
In response to a recommendation by auditors that the town properly file and maintain these records, the town responded that all their citations had been confiscated for a State Police investigation.
No specific individuals were named in the audit. During the audit period, Mayor Damon Runyon resigned and Stephanie Fout was appointed in his stead.
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