Unfinished building a symptom of larger problem

NateSmith 2013

For about a decade, the board of directors and chief of the Indian Lake EMS Joint Ambulance District eked their way along, doing little more than the bare minimum year-after-year to remain in acceptable standing with state auditors. 

From its inception, state auditors have cited the EMS district for spending money that it either could not or chose not to show it had in the bank. 

“Since the district’s board did not adopt an appropriations resolution in 2006 and 2007, all expenditures, in the amount of $361,921 and $260,952, respectively, exceeded appropriations. The failure to adopt appropriations increases the risk of deficit spending by the district,” reads a 2006-2007 state of Ohio audit of the Indian Lake EMS financials. 

Again in the 2008-2009 audit cycle, the EMS district was cited for spending money before demonstrating it had the funds in the bank.

Citing Ohio Revised Code, the audit report from ’08-’09 reads, “…no subdivision shall make any contract or give any ordering any expenditure of money unless a certificate signed by the fiscal officer is attached thereto.”

It shouldn’t take a lawyer to translate that legalese to mean: Public entities are required by law to show the availability of funds before entering into any contracts to spend money.

In 2014, Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office determined that so few of the required financial reports from the EMS district in 2012 and 2013 had been turned in, that the district couldn’t even be audited at all. The Ohio Auditor’s Office placed the Indian Lake EMS district on the “auditable” list in 2014. 

“During the course of the regular financial audit of the Indian Lake EMS Joint Ambulance District for the period January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2013, it was determined that the condition of the district’s financial records was not adequate to complete the audit,” reads a press release from Mr. Yost’s office dated Nov. 7, 2014.

That same press release quotes Ohio auditor. ““Incomplete records leave unanswered questions,” he said. “The district must provide comprehensive records so the audit can be performed.” 

When EMS district officials eventually got around to turning in just enough information to get by, the district was again cited for a lack of budgetary controls.

“In performing the audit we noted several violations of budgetary law which, although they do not in and of themselves, result in errors in financial reporting, may lead to the district making financial decisions based on incorrect or incomplete information,” reads a portion of that 2012-2013 audit report.

But for, “that damn building,” there’s no way I would have ever begun asking the kinds of uncomfortable questions nagging the EMS district, one board member told me during a recent conversation about the audit reports. 

Board members don’t seem to acknowledge any connection between an extended pattern of inadequate financial reporting, and the almost surreal truth that construction of a new EMS station began — and continued for about six weeks — right across the street without anyone apparently having signed off on the project.

However, this is precisely the kind of “financial decision” that state auditors warned the board may end up making based upon “incomplete” or “inadequate” information. 

And as we rapidly approach the two-year anniversary of the dubious ground breaking of that eyesore at the corner of Oak and Stephenson streets in Lakeview, it’s borderline inexcusable now for any meeting of the EMS chief and the board to not begin and end with: What are we doing about the unsecured hazard across the street?

It’s not as if local residents are indifferent to the stalled “construction” site. 

“I’ve gotten complaints from citizens all up and down these streets about that building, that it was left unsecured and what a hazard it represents for kids,” Lakeview mayor Ryan Shofstall told EMS board members at a January meeting.

I personally watched during the winter months of 2015 as Lakeview Village Council fielded resident complaints about the building, and listened as Lakeview Fire Department took great pains to separate itself from the EMS district out of concern that residents would confuse the entities and vote against a fire levy for a new building, based on their mistrust of the EMS district. 

The Indian Lake Joint Ambulance District has been run from the beginning from crisis to crisis with no long-term vision or planning. 

Board members have said they are still learning how to effectively manage an EMS district, a somewhat non-conventional public body that was started a relatively short time ago. However, there is no evidence — none — that the people responsible for managing the EMS district day-to-day took any initiative whatsoever to improve the quality of their financial reporting. 

That flippant attitude towards basic financial reporting and bureaucratic paperwork was no doubt a contributing factor to construction starting on that building across the street. 

It literally took about an hour for Indian Lake EMS officials to call a special meeting to address all the “rocks being thrown at them,” and to formally announce a change in protocol.

Still, going on 10 years of incomplete financial reporting to the county and state auditor prevails. And there’s no end in sight for the unfinished pile of bricks across the street.

At a time when towns all over are dealing with the challenge of absent landlords, vacant lots and derelict properties, thanks to the Indian Lake EMS district, the village of Lakeview is expanding its availability of dangerous, unsecured hangouts. 

The Indian Lake EMS district’s neighbors deserve better.

Nate Smith is an Examiner staff writer that sure is glad he doesn’t face the challenge of raising his 2- and 3-year old kids across the street from an unsecured, and unfinished construction site with no timetable for completion. He can be reached by email at nsmith@examiner.org, or on Twitter, @n8smithreports.