KY Auditor's Office opens examination into Southeast Bullitt Fir - WDRB 41 Louisville News

KY Auditor's Office opens examination into Southeast Bullitt Fire Dept.

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BULLITT COUNTY, Ky. (WDRB) The Kentucky Auditor's Office has launched an examination into the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department.

Nick Abell passes by Southeast Bullitt's Station 3 Fire Department all the time, but doesn't see any firefighters. Abell said, "My concern is it's a brand new firehouse and no fire trucks come out of it. My house is around the corner and my insurance rates, they won't lower my insurance rates because this is not an active firehouse."

You won't find any firefighters at Station 1 either. Southeast Bullitt Volunteer Fire and Rescue has said Station 1 is used for training. Fire Services are now operated out of the main firehouse, Station 2 near I-65 in Clermont.

The Department is run by long time Chief Julius Hatfield who is a board member of both the Southeast Bullitt Fire Protection District - which collects the taxes -- and the non-profit department which provides fire services.

Dan Thibodeaux is a Board Member of the Southeast Bullitt Fire Protection District. He said, "My main concern is that they've taken it upon themselves, the district has taken for themselves, to transfer somewhere between $1 and $2 million worth of tax payer assets to a private corporation."

Thibodeaux was appointed by the Fiscal Court. He says the structure of the two organizations is bad for taxpayers and it's a mystery what the non-profit department is doing with the money.

Thibodeaux said, "I think as a taxpayer, they don't have an idea of what's going on in this south end of the county. There is not a piece of equipment, a truck, a pick, a shovel, a firehouse or anything that belongs to the county."

The Kentucky Auditor's Office recently launched what it calls an examination at the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department, but can't release details.

The Auditor's Office also sent Chief Hatfield a letter last year saying the department funds should be audited annually. When WDRB asked for audit documents, WDRB received a letter from Southeast Bullitt that outlined that the fire department did not have an audit in 2009 or 2010 and 2011. 2012 and 2013 records will be audited.

Abell said, "I've moved out here 16 years ago. It's built up out here. We need services they provide."

Some residents didn't want their names released, but said, "I think it's awful. This firehouse here isn't being used. They've got all this property that they bale hay on and do their stuff here and the money we pay to the fire dept. is awful."

Tax records from 2009 to 2011 show that the non-profit department takes in more money than it spends and the surpluses have been piling up.

Southeast Bullitt's net assets reached a high of $4.6 million in 2011. In 2012, the most recent year available -- the Department was sitting on $3.9 million in net assets.

The department did find money to increase Chief Hatfield's pay each year. According to the non-profit's IRS tax form in 2012,  Hatfield received more than $38,000 for working an average of 20 hours a week.

Thibodeaux said, "Every penny they take in whether they spend it or not, they put it in their bank account."

Records also show every year, there are Christmas bonuses for the department. Last year, Hatfield and other firefighters received between $100 and $300 bonuses. But the biggest bonus went to Hatfield's wife Joanne: a lump sum payment of $14,000 for volunteering her secretarial and bookkeeping services.

Thibodeaux said, "Maybe $14,000 would be better paid to the fireman instead of paid to the wife."

In April, the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department paid back nearly $19,000 to the Kentucky Fire Commission for falsified training records.That's after Hatfield admitted he wasn't at training which is tied to state aid and incentive pay.

Thibodeaux said, "I'm concerned about the fire chief being chairman of the district. He has too much power. He is surrounded by too many people who are on his side of the fence and therefore the district can't function."

WDRB has repeatedly asked Hatfield for an interview, but he has declined.

Residents say they're left with more questions than answers about how their fire department is run.

Abell said, "Cutting grass, that's the only time I see them doing anything. I don't know who gets the hay off this field."

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