State to Audit Cal Fire Training Fund

State officials plan to conduct an audit of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection finances in the wake of allegations the agency had set up a $3.6 secret fund in 2005, reports The Record Searchlight.

The state Department of Finance and Joint Legislative Audit Committee will be looking into how Cal Fire’s wildland fire investigation training fund was set up and how the money in the account was spent, said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for state Natural Resources Agency.

Earlier this week state legislative Republicans had called for the audit after an investigation found Cal Fire was sending money from court settlements into an account held by the California District Attorney’s Association. The letter sent to the governor also called for a repeal of a controversial new state fire fee and to return all money collected back to property owners.

“Certainly we need to shine a light on this situation,” said Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Eldorado Hills, said Friday the fund set up by Cal Fire. He joined 24 other Republican state legislators asking Gov. Jerry Brown to investigate the fund.

Gaines said the fund was secret and illegal because the money from Cal Fire court settlements wasn’t returned to the state general fund.
Janet Upton, a Cal Fire spokeswoman, said Friday the fund was neither illegal nor secret. She said the fund was set up as a “settlement tool” in cases where the state was trying to recover the cost of fighting fires started through negligence.

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