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Auditor probing spending on fire engine


Anne Arundel County Auditor Teresa Sutherland is investigating why county officials spent about $19,500 to repair a 1950s fire engine that has been used by County Executive Janet S. Owens and other elected officials at parades and fairs.

Sutherland learned of the repairs two weeks ago and initiated an investigation into whether the use of county money was appropriate. She has tried to figure out who owns the vehicle and if it should be considered part of the county fleet. The auditor briefed County Council members Tuesday.

Sutherland declined to discuss the inquiry yesterday, but said a full report would be released soon. The review was prompted by a complaint by a county employee whose name has not been released.

Owens has used the engine - a 1956 Maxim - in parades and public events. Other officials, including County Council members Cathleen M. Vitale and Bill D. Burlison, also have ridden in the fire engine, which was used for many years by the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company before it was retired.

Recently, the county spent $19,507 to repair the vehicle and patch exterior paint chips.

After the fire engine was retired, a group of private investors called 131 Inc. purchased it. A Fire Department spokesman said yesterday that Riviera Beach firefighters bought back the vehicle in November 2000.

Council members were surprised to hear that the fire engine had been serviced at a county garage. Many thought it was owned by Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds, who offered it to elected officials for public events in an effort to attract firefighter recruits and volunteers.

"This is an uncharted area," said Vitale, who rode in the fire engine at a Fourth of July parade last year in Severna Park. Vitale said she was told that the vehicle belonged to Simonds.

Fire officials said yesterday that the old Maxim belongs to Riviera Beach volunteer firefighters. Division Chief John M. Scholz said 131 Inc. sold the truck back to the volunteers two years ago, but that the vehicle title had not been changed.

Scholz said Simonds never owned the fire engine.

"We wouldn't have put money into rebuilding it if it wasn't owned by the volunteer fire department," he said, adding that he was told that the title had been changed Monday.

Scholz said the Maxim has been sidelined from public events since questions about its ownership and repairs were raised. It won't be placed back on active duty until fire officials have proof that it is owned by Riviera Beach volunteers and not private citizens.

Fire officials argue that because the vehicle is used to promote the department, the county should pay to "keep it from breaking down in the middle of an intersection," Scholz said. Still, they are waiting for proof of ownership before they push the issue. "We want to see the bill of sale and a copy of the title," the division chief said.

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