Skyland – After waiting for more than two months for an official bank balance from the Skyland Fire Department, the Tribune has finally received the amount of how much the station has in its bank account. Skyland Fire Department Treasurer Scott Hare says the department currently has a balance of $3,189,430.
Hare and Skyland Fire Department Board Chairman Scott Hart promised the information to the Tribune as soon as “lawyers” permitted them.
“I’m just waiting to get the exact figures whenever the figures are public. I’m just making sure we get what we need and I’m waiting for them to reply back. I haven’t heard anything back from him yet,” Hare told the Tribune weeks ago.
In a June 24 email, in which he sent the balance, Hare apologized for the delay in information. “I apologize for the delay in getting you this information. I wanted to make sure that the information you are receiving is accurate. The fiscal year for Skyland FD ends on June 30th of every year.”
Results of the email to Warn
In the Tribune’s email to Warn, we had “several questions about the Skyland Fire Department’s annual budget. I am contacting you about this matter as we’ve been told that the department has between $5 – $8 million in the bank. I have been unable to confirm an accurate number from either Scott Hart or Scott Hare of the Skyland Fire Department Board, who have failed to send us the info on their balance after numerous requests.”
We then asked, “What, if anything, has the Skyland Fire Department declared to the county to be their balance of the account?
What is their request for operating costs for the upcoming budget year? Is that up or down from the previous year?
Are they asking for an increase in their fire tax?
Can you also provide the same info for other county fire departments?
Have you seen anything unusual about Skyland Fire Department’s finances in the last few years since the department borrowed $150,000 in 2017 from Riceville Fire Department to make payroll?”
And finally, “Is the county watching the Skyland Fire Department’s finances more closely than other departments because they had to borrow money to make payroll back in 2017?”
The Tribune did not hear back from Warn, but from Kassi Day, Buncombe County Communications & Public Engagement.
Day said, “Buncombe County Government contracts with our local fire departments to provide fire protection and ambulance rescue service. Fire Departments are separate financial and legal entities.”
She went on to say, “The county does not actively track bank balances for any fire departments. We monitor all Fire Protection & Ambulance and Rescue Service contracts by requiring an annual financial audit and each fire department is required to provide an annual financial report once a year/per their contracts.”
What spurred the inquiry
The Tribune’s inquiry into the fund balance at Skyland began in April after a news tip that the fire department had millions in their bank account. In 2017, Skyland had to “borrow” $150,000 from Riceville Fire Department to “make payroll.” The Tribune wondered about the acute turnaround in financial fate, how the department was able to accumulate so much surplus and exactly how much did the department have in the bank.
Asked in April of this year if the department’s financial condition had improved, Hart told the Tribune, “It absolutely has. We’ve got probably over $5 million in the bank right at the moment. Yes, sir, we’ve turned it around.”
Asked what he credited the turnaround to, Hart laughed and said, “Not spending money…we did some refinancing of our properties and that was a big, big help right there. And like I said we tightened up on our spending the last few years and gotten our finances to where they are now.”
According to a document sent by Hare, Skyland’s revenues in 2020 were nearly $8 million ($7,919,502), and they spent out $6,254,439, leaving a balance of $2,407,299. This is $782,131 less than what Hare says the department had on balance as of June 24.
Hare also provided 2019 and 2018 numbers. The document says that in 2019, Skyland’s revenues were $7,315,610 and they spent $6,511,007, leaving a balance if $3,211,436. In 2018, the department’s revenues were $6,616,436 and they spent $5,729,034, leaving a balance if $1,745,368.
Editor’s note: For those concerned about the financial dealings at Skyland, the board meets every fourth Tuesday of the month at the station at 6:30 pm. The election of board members is in June.