Questions arise about Skyland FD’s finances

November 10, 2017 Asheville , News Stories 1807 Views
Questions arise about Skyland FD’s finances

150k check be sure to black acc #

This $150,000 check written to Skyland Fire Department from the Riceville Fire Department is raising questions.  

By Chad Nesbitt – In a quest to find answers as to why former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene is being investigated by the FBI, the Tribune/Leader has stumbled upon questionable financial transactions at the Skyland Fire Department.

According to information received by the Tribune/Leader, Skyland Fire Department receives about $6.5 million of tax money annually for operating expenses, but several different sources close to the department, all of whom have asked to remain anonymous, say the department has been struggling financially for a long time. One source says that the Skyland Fire Department had maxed out credit cards and at one point Advance Auto Parts cut their credit off.

Greene retired July 1st of this year and it has been reported by local news media the amount of money earned as salary, retention pay and paid leave days was over half a million dollars for the last six months of her job. It was announced a few months after her retirement that she was under a FBI investigation. About a month after Greene’s retirement then-Skyland Fire Chief Dennis Presley also retired.

Since then the Tribune/Leader has learned that an employee of the Skyland Fire Department, who is also a board member at the Riceville Fire Department, facilitated a $150,000 transfer of money from the Riceville Fire Department to Skyland.

After checking the records of the Skyland Fire Department employees and the Riceville Fire Department board members, the Tribune/Leader could only find one person matching that description, Skyland Fire Department Division Chief Mark Dillingham who is also listed as sitting on the Riceville Fire Department Board. He was also named by one of the sources as the person who facilitated the transfer.

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Several sources at the Skyland Fire Department have confirmed to the Tribune/Leader that financial conditions are not good at the department which reportedly gets more than $6.5 million annually from Buncombe County to run the department which has several locations and about 50 employees.

The Tribune/Leader contacted Dillingham at his work at the Skyland department and asked what he knews about the check. “I’m at Skyland. This is on my job. That’s Riceville business so I’m not going to talk about that at Skyland work. That’s crossing the line for me,” Dillingham told the Tribune/Leader. Dillingham admitted to being a board member at Riceville, but said that if they wanted information about the check that the newspaper should get in touch with the Skyland board.

The Tribune/Leader was able to obtain a copy of the check that was written from Riceville to Skyland in the amount of $150,000, and the signature on the check appears to be that of a Mark Dillingham.

In an email sent in October Tribune/Leader asked the Skyland Fire Department board members why they borrowed $150,000 from the Riceville Fire Department? Officially Ryan Cole with the department replied on October 16th that all questions would be answered after the November board meeting and that any further questions should be directed to Skyland Board President Tony Huntsinger. The Tribune/Leader tried to speak with Huntsinger in person but he refused to answer any questions.

However, a source close to the board who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “That’s a good question. I would like to know the answer to that too because they [the person which obtained the $150,000] never let the board members know anything about borrowing $150,000 and our treasurer doesn’t know anything about borrowing $150,000.” The source said, “We never had a meeting about it, there are no minutes about it, I’ve never even seen a contract with the Riceville Fire Department or how we’re supposed to pay the money back.”

Two different sources confirmed that Presley’s wife, Lisa, is the bookkeeper for Skyland. The Tribune/Leader called to talk to Lisa Presley about the matter of the $150,000, but Presley refused to talk with the paper.

Another Skyland Fire Department source, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said, “I’m not sure what the money is to be used for, but they [referring to Mark Dillingham and Ryan Cole] claim they are struggling to make payroll.” The source went on to say, “Mark Dillingham is the Skyland Division Chief and he also sits on the board over at Riceville. He is the one that got the money from Riceville.”

The Tribune/Leader tried to reach other members of the Riceville Fire Department’s board to ask about the $150,000 check but were unsuccessful as of press time. Minutes of the Skyland Fire Department’s September meeting does no show any mention of a discussion of a $150,000, but a source at the Riceville Fire Department told the Tribune/Leader that no mention of the $150,000 was in the minutes. The Tribune/Leader asked for minutes from the Riceville Fire Department for September and October, but have not received them as of press time.

After the board received the Tribune/Leader’s October emails it has been learned that the $150,000 was immediately sent back to the Riceville Fire Department according to one of the sources. The Tribune/Leader has also learned that after the Skyland Fire Department sent the money back to Riceville that it received a check for approximately $125,000 from a private individual who reportedly is employed at the fire department. It is unclear if this was a loan or donation.  The Tribune/Leader has been told the name of that person from one of the sources, but as of press time has not been able to get a second confirmation on that name.

A source tells the Tribune/Leader, “After you asked about the $150,000 they sent it back to Riceville.” He went on to say, “Well you know this is the taxpayers money they are playing with.”

Editor’s note: The Tribune/Leader has pursued this story for several weeks in a belief that the brave men and women of the Skyland Fire Department deserves answers to the questions raised during our investigation. Clint Parker assisted in this article.

Several sources at the Skyland Fire Department have confirmed to the Tribune/Leader that financial conditions are not good at the department which reportedly gets more than $6.5 million annually from Buncombe County to run the department which has several locations and about 50 employees.

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