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GARY — City staff and council members will meet in a closed-door session this week or next to discuss $4.9 million that's unaccounted for from a restricted funding source that supports the cash-strapped city's EMS operations. 

Chase Bank statements recently reviewed by Gary Councilwoman Lavetta Sparks-Wade, 6th District, and fire personnel showed the account has a balance of $337,000, but the city's accounting system purported to show the balance was at $5.2 million, Sparks-Wade said. 

Sparks-Wade, who chairs the council's Ambulance Committee as its sole member, said she brought the  "noticeable discrepancy" to the City Council's attention at an April meeting. An internal audit followed shortly after, she said. 

Under a city ordinance, those dollars are restricted to ambulance and EMS services-related expenses. 

Other city departments have been drawing from the fund — a blatant misuse of government dollars, Sparks-Wade said.

"It's not a possible misuse of funds. It's definitely a misuse of funds," she said. 

Documents show the city's EMS operations are funded through two funds — the Ambulance Non-Reverting Fund and the General Fund.

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The Ambulance Non-Reverting Fund is a restrictive fund, meaning it's primarily used for operating costs related to maintaining and repairing ambulances and fire suppression vehicles, as well as other nonpersonnel operating costs, according to city documents. The General Fund allocation is almost exclusively for personnel costs, records show. 

Dayna Bennett, chief of staff in the mayor's office, reported to council members last week that preliminary audit results will be presented during a private, executive session because it pertains to personnel matters. 

The goal of the audit is to find out where, exactly, the $4.9 million went, she said. 

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday night the audit extends from 2016 to 2018.

"There was an inconsistency between our accounting system and the bank statement, but even prior to that, we had begun an internal accounting of funds," she told The Times. "Our expectation is we’ll get the full report in executive session. We do know that it appears there have been some withdrawals, some that are not consistent with the restrictions of the ordinance."

Freeman-Wilson said while she wouldn't classify the misspending of funds as criminal, she said she expects there will certainly be personnel repercussions. 

The executive session will be scheduled as soon as possible, Freeman-Wilson said. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.