Fire District Returns Paycheck Protection Program Loan

The move comes months after an NBC Connecticut Investigates story focused on questions about who actually applied for the loan received by the Blue Hills Fire District and how the money was meant to be spent.

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A Bloomfield fire department has voted to return a $120,459 paycheck protection program loan it received.

This came months after an NBC Connecticut Investigates piece raised questions about how the department got the loan and if it needed the pandemic funding.

The Blue Hills Fire District received a $120,459 Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loan last spring. At first it was unclear who actually applied for it, since there was no vote by the three commissioners on board at the time.

The Blue Hills Fire District was awarded a PPP loan, but two former commissioners say they weren’t even aware of the application and some are now questioning how the money was used.

Finance director Errol Bartley later said he decided to apply for the forgivable loan, saying he was acting in the best interest of the fire district.

More concerns came up when the first move to use the PPP money was not to meet payroll, but rather to give full-time and volunteer department members what some taxpayers called a bonus, but what commissioner Ariel Jaunai said was strictly an extra week’s pay.

“I don’t know what bonuses you guys are talking about. We never gave out bonus, we gave an additional payment, to the guys, the guys who were in Covid,” Jaunai said during a commission meeting on October 7, 2020.

Jaunai defended her voting on the measure, despite the fact her husband, a full-time captain, also got the extra week’s pay. She told NBC Connecticut Investigates that it was a vote supporting all the firefighters in the department.

Last week a new majority on the board of commissioners voted to give the PPP loan back.

“I move that we return the PPP funds to the source it was received from, as it was not needed at the time that it was taken and the circumstances under which it was taken is still cloudy,” said Blue Hills Fire Commissioner Michelle Adams.

The commissioners voted 2-0, with Jaunai abstaining, to return the money, and look into exactly how the district got it in the first place.

Another question that remains up in the air is will the fire district ask its firefighters to return the extra week’s pay they received last year, or will it just decide to absorb the extra cost?

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