Members of the New Johnsonville Volunteer Fire Department racked up more than $22,000 in unpaid cell phone bills and took advantage of city tax exemptions they weren’t supposed to have, according to a state audit.
Tennessee Comptrollers released their report Thursday.
“Beginning in May 2016, the department established the cell phone plan for the benefit of firefighters and others. The department plan was not created for a government purpose,” according to the audit.
“The cell phone plan bills were supposed to be paid with individual participant money and not with volunteer fire department or government funds.”
The plan included bills related to 116 phones — although the membership of the volunteer fire department was fewer than 25 firefighters, auditors said.
The department plan included not only New Johnsonville volunteer firefighters, but also some of their family members and others.
The average monthly bill was approximately $4,250, the audit said.
Earlier this year, the cell phone plan invoice had a past due balance of $22,648. Some cell phone users apparently paid off a portion of the bill. Last month the account had a delinquent and unpaid balance of $7,424, according to the audit.
Current New Johnsonville Fire Chief Bale Allen told The Tennessee Star Thursday he took over as chief after the cell phone plan was already in effect.
“It was all under the mayor before the mayor we have now and the fire chief before the fire chief we have now. They were the ones involved in this plan,” Allen said.
“When I came into office I went through all the paperwork of the department and found things I didn’t like and changed them. The cell phone plan is gone. It’s never going to happen again. Not as long as I’m chief.”
Allen said the fire chief who preceded him, Tim Duncan, is now the Humphreys County fire chief.
Duncan did not immediately return The Star’s request for comment Thursday.
“The department also failed to pay an estimated $7,740 in taxes and fees when it improperly used the city’s tax-exempt status for the department plan,” auditors wrote.
“The plan was established to provide personal cell phone service and was not intended to benefit the city.”
City officials allowed the department to utilize the city’s tax-exempt status for the department plan. City officials, however, did not manage the plan. City funds did not pay for the plan, and they did not intend it to benefit the city, according to the audit.
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