By Ashley Conroy
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Thousands of dollars slated for volunteer firefighters was misused by three city leaders in Sledge, Mississippi.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney announced on Tuesday that the former Mayor Bernard Handy, the former City Clerk Mary Allen, and current City Clerk Yvonne Amos spent almost $22,000 dollars that was supposed to go to the Sledge Volunteer Fire Department.
"You're looking over $21,000 dollars of taxpayers funds that was earmarked to provide fire protection to the local community," said State Auditor Stacey Pickering.
Of the 757 fire departments across the state, 85 percent are volunteer. Funds for volunteer departments are appropriated by the State Legislature, totaling $15.5 million annually.
State Fire Coordinator Larry Barr said the more funds that go to volunteer departments, the less homeowners pay for insurance costs.
"The ratings that we're seeing now because of the increased fire protection that we have. Homeowners are saving about $50 million dollars a year," Barr said.
Pickering says this case isn't the only instance of an official misusing funds earmarked for volunteer departments.
In 2009, Pickering said one Neshoba County official misused $16,000 dollars.
"This is a critical source of limited revenue for these departments across the state of Mississippi to make sure when they show up on the scene, we're not simply extinguishing a pile of ashes."
With a strapped state budget, state leaders say every dollar that is misused or spent where it shouldn't, is money that comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.
"Our job is to protect the public and to put out a minimum cost and not let people steal the money that should go to protect the public," Chaney said.
Chaney also says these volunteer departments are crucial in saving lives.
"These guys that stand behind us depend upon this money for the extra equipment that they need in their communities to operate to save lives and to save property."
Pickering and Chaney have demanded these three individuals pay the Sledge Volunteer Fire Department back the money that is rightfully theirs.
Pickering said if the funds are not paid back, then charges will be pressed.
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