A new state audit has found counties across Indiana last year improperly spent nearly $100,000 in 911 fees that are collected from each Hoosier landline and mobile telephone subscriber at the rate of $1 per month.
State law strictly limits how 911 fees can be used. The money only can be spent on equipment, technology, personnel, maintenance, and supplies that specifically relate to the work of 911 response facilities, also known as public safety answering points (PSAPs).
According to the State Board of Accounts, 19 county PSAPs had ineligible expenditures totaling $94,379.90 between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020.
A comparison to prior state audits shows that's the highest amount of ineligible PSAP expenses since 2016.
Ineligible expenses in 2019 were $40,303.81, totaled $50,151.25 in 2018, and were just $14,321.99 in 2017.
Notably, none of the ineligible expenses appear to relate to the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted public and private workplaces across the United States and around the world last year.
The money instead went to more pedestrian non-permitted expenses, including $159.78 for a ladder, $63.80 for a signature stamp, $62.97 for American flags, $27.84 for business cards, $21.99 for weed killer, $11.99 for candy, and $5.46 for salt and pepper, the audit found.
In Northwest Indiana, only LaPorte County caught the attention of state auditors for spending $4,613 on ineligible computer maintenance expenses and $800 on unauthorized telephone costs.
According to the audit, LaPorte County has repaid the $5,413 to its 911 fund. Records show the reimbursement documentation was received May 25 by the State Board of Accounts.
The audit found Grant County — located along Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne — tallied the highest amount of ineligible expenses after spending $74,819.57 on building renovations and equipment.
Grant County now has until Sept. 1 to return the money to its 911 fund and submit documentation to that effect, according to the audit.
Separately, the State Board of Accounts report on 911 fee revenue shows how much money was paid by Hoosiers through the $1 monthly 911 fee in each Indiana county during 2020.
It found Lake County collected $3,947,132.60 in 911 revenue, Porter County took in $2,162,076.28, and LaPorte County $1,864,443.43.
Altogether, Indiana counties and cities collected $81,062,165.24 in 911 fee revenue last year, a 7.1% increase compared to 2019, while total state spending on 911 services was $73,795,639.21 in 2020, a 16.8% year-over-year increase, according to the audit.