For the past 10 years the Winnebago Firemen Relief Association would receive a check from CenterPoint Energy and cash it.
Then about two weeks ago, Fire Chief Jesse Haugh got a phone call from City Administrator Jake Skluzacek.
“I was a little shell shock,” says Haugh. “I thought we were doing great getting outside money and funding.”
Turns out the $140,000 the Fire Department had received was franchise fees that should have been paid to the city.
The error was discovered when an official from CenterPoint contacted City Hall to see whether the annual payment could be made by direct deposit instead of a check.
Haugh explained to the City Council at their meeting Wednesday night that the money has been used to purchase much needed equipment.
“Not one dollar has gone into our retirement fund,” he says. “Things we are buying, it is nothing extravagant.”
Haugh rattled off a list of items purchased that included a $40,000 air compressor, $32,000 to buy Jaws of Life equipment, $5,000 for pagers and $5,000 for fire hose nozzles.
The fire department paid the bank $30, says Haugh, to document how the checks were deposited and the money has been spent.
Mayor Scott Robertson says he’s convinced nothing underhanded occurred and Council member Jean Anderson calls what happened “a non-event.”
Council members agreed that some of the funds probably would have been used to help supplement the Fire Department’s budget anyway.
Although the money will not have to be paid back to the city, losing the funds will have a negative impact.
“Without that much money coming in each year, we’re trouble,” says Haugh, adding the department is planning to buy trucks in the next five years.