YONKERS, NY – The city is seeking spending records from a firefighters union’s benefits fund that, in the past, has been cited for poor record keeping.
The city filed papers in state Supreme Court seeking records for the Variable Benefits Fund of Local 628 of the International Association of Fire Fighters so a contractor could audit the fund. The July 1 filing asks the court to order the fund to turn over its spending records for 2014.
The Variable Benefits Fund gets money from taxpayers and is used to reimburse city firefighters for dental, prescription, vision and other healthcare expenses.
The current dispute dates to March when the city hired the Bonadio Group to audit the fund. In court papers, the city argued that Bonadio unsuccessfully tried for four months to obtain the records.
Local 628 President Barry McGoey said the city was hasty in taking legal action.
“We’re more than willing to comply with the city’s audit of our books. I guess the city didn’t like the speed at which we responded to their request,” said McGoey, explaining that the records are now kept by a third-party administrator and not readily accessible to the union.
As of Tuesday, the city has not been given access to the records, according to city spokeswoman Christina Gilmartin.
“The city has contractual rights and the obligation to audit the fund and protect our taxpayers,” Gilmartin wrote in an email.
In a 2013 report, former Yonkers Inspector General Kitley S. Covill reviewed a sampling of the Variable Benefits Fund’s spending for 2011 and found what she described as general disorganization, a lack of supporting documentation and payments to non-city employees.
Covill recommended using a third-party administrator and an annual audit, among other suggestions. McGoey said Covill’s recommendations were adopted by the fund.
“We’re confident that the auditor will find everything all right,” said McGoey.
The legal action over the fund is one of three city/firefighter cases filed in state Supreme Court in the past month. The union’s two cases are a challenge to how the city calculated retirement benefits for disabled firefighters and a labor grievance over the city’s increased reliance on firefighters to perform emergency medical responses.
McGoey said that, since Jan. 1, firefighters have been asked to respond to a greater number of non-fire emergencies, endangering firefighters. He said that, in some cases, firefighters were asked to respond to domestic-violence and active-shooter situations.
“We literally had firefighters responding at midnight to radically different calls without prior notification or training,” McGoey said.
Yonkers Fire Commissioner Robert Sweeney said firefighters were inappropriately sent to some calls in early January, but the problem was resolved. Sweeney said the increased calls stemmed from the fact that police no longer handle medical emergencies that occur on city streets or in parks.
“It’s a better use of the administration’s resources. We have 57 firefighters and 18 companies on duty every day. They are a valuable resource,” said Sweeney, adding that at least 70 percent of city firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians.