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Chaney, Pickering: Fire rebate cash misused

State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney have issued civil demands totaling just short of $22,000 to current and former city officials in Sledge.

Current city clerk Yvonne Amos, former mayor Bernard Handy and former city clerk ┬áMary Allen allegedly misused money the city received from the state’s Fire Insurance Rebate Program. More specifically, the three are accused of taking $13,579 of FIRP money that was supposed to pay for equipment and/or training for the Sledge Fire Department and transferring it to the city’s general fund to pay for recurring expenses, things like salaries, city vehicles and so forth. The state allocates FIRP money to municipalities where fire insurance was unavailable for home and business owners because of a lack of fire protection. It goes mostly to rural areas, and decreases homeowners’ insurance premiums.

While other municipalities have been caught doing this — Pickering mentioned Terry and Isola and Neshoba County — the past few years, what sets Sledge apart is that the three who wrote the checks (Allen, Handy and Amos) were unable to produce the FIRP money once it was discovered it had been misappropriated. Terry, Isola and Neshoba County officials, according to Pickering and Chaney, were able to refund the FIRP cash once the two agencies demanded they do so.

“This is the first case in a long time where people actually spent the money,” Chaney said.

As of now, this is strictly civil matter. Neither Chaney nor Pickering would say whether the three would face criminal charges, though it would seem they wouldn’t as long as the money is repaid to the state.

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