A Paycheck Protection Program loan given to a Connecticut fire department will be under the microscope after taxpayers raised concerns, and NBC Connecticut Investigates looked into it.
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. But it may be up to local leaders, not the feds, to do the digging.
“As someone who advises clients on this particular matter, you wanna try to use the program for its intended purpose, which is to keep people employed,” explained Ryan Sheppard of Knight Rolleri Sheppard Certified Public Accountants.
Sheppard believes most PPP loans under $150,000 will get little or no scrutiny from the federal level, so situations like the one at the Blue Hills Fire District in Bloomfield will be left for local officials to sort through, not the Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the program.
“Those applications are really going to be a one page attestation that basically you sign and you give back to the SBA. That basically says here was the number of employees I was able to keep, here was my estimated payroll, and you call it a day,” Sheppard said.
Hearing complaints from the public, two new fire commissioners have decided not to wait for the feds and will have a forensic auditor examine a $120,000 PPP loan awarded to the Blue Hills Fire Department, and where it was spent.
The district applied for the loan without a commission vote. Commissioner Ariel Jaunai then made a successful motion to use some of that money for extra pay for firefighters, including her husband, according to district records.
The district’s finance director, Errol Bartley, said he did not keep a copy of the application for the PPP loan. Once it was found, it showed it was filled out not under the district’s name, but under a similar name with a different tax ID number. Bartley said that was a mistake.
The finance director declined to be interviewed. Jaunai did comment. She said the PPP loan was discussed with other commissioners but not voted on. She also defended her motion and vote for extra pay for firefighters including her husband, saying she felt like the pay was for the entire body, not just him.
The U.S. Small Business Administration says PPP money can be used for bonus and incentive pay. Jaunai also said while the extra firefighter pay has been earmarked to be paid for with PPP money, none of the $120,000 has actually been spent yet.