KAYSVILLE, UT — (KUTV) A fun and festive time in Kaysville has now turned into a big controversy. It all has to do with what is affectionately called "Big Red." It’s a ceremonial fire engine that is used, most notably, to cool off parade goers in Kaysville every 4th of July by spraying spectators with water.
Like all old vehicles, it takes some money to keep "Big Red" running, but those repair payments are raising some eyebrows.
A city spending taxpayer money on one of their fire engines, even one that is not used to fight fires, probably doesn't sound particularly controversial. But Big Red is not owned by the city of Kaysville. It is privately owned and its owner has direct access to Kaysville’s pocketbook.
Big Red belongs to Kaysville councilman Dave Adams. He bought it, he says, as an impulse a few years ago from an auto auction paying about $8,000.
A report released Monday by the state auditor’s office suggests it was wrong for Adams to spend taxpayer on his own personal vehicle as well as various other supplies, especially because most of the money was spent without getting city permission.
State Auditor John Dougall says he was contacted by a number of Kaysville citizens, including Kaysville’s mayor, asking the state auditor’s office to investigate Big Red’s recent parade entry.
Dougall says that if city managers or the city council wanted to invest taxpayer money in someone’s private property, such things should always be discussed publicly and any financial arrangements should be made in writing.
“If you're going to have a situation where you're going to hire, for example, a fire engine to be in a parade, just pay a flat fee up front -- here's how much we pay for this vehicle to be in the parade. Getting into, ‘what we're going to fix,’ and things like that gets to be questionable," Dougall says.
Of particular concern to the state auditor was that, after using taxpayer money to repair the truck, the truck was draped in banners that made political statements in favor of certain elected officials. Those banners were also purchased with the city credit card at a cost to taxpayers of $744.
Dougall says that was not only inappropriate, it was illegal.
"We view that is getting into electioneering. There is a prohibition on using public funds for electioneering," Dougall said.
The audit suggests Kaysville demand Adams pay back the $5,879 he charged to a city credit card to get Big Red parade ready.
But speaking to reporters outside Kaysville City Hall Tuesday, Dave Adams was defiant.
"We're not here to apologize," he said, speaking on behalf of himself, his wife and his three young boys who stood beside him. "We feel that we lived up to our end of the bargain."
Adams does not appreciate what has become a bit of scandal in Kaysville, one that has disrupted city council meetings and resulted in heated arguments.
Adams says Big Red needed repairs or it would not have been ready to go for this years' parade and he claims he got permission from the city’s parks and recreation supervisor to use city money to fix it up. The audit report acknowledges that Adams was verbally told he could spend about $2500 to fix a seal that would allow the truck to spray water but says he was not given permission for other purchases including the banners, sub-woofers, light bulbs, air conditioning and transmission fluid among other things.
Adams said the seal ended up costing approximately $1300 and that some of what the audit report states he bought inappropriately has been or will be returned, as he claims was always the plan.
"We feel like we've done nothing wrong," Adams said.
Kaysville Councilman Chris Snell says he agrees with the audit. He thinks the people of Kaysville deserve a refund from Adams.
"It is an expense by a city council member that actually benefited that city council member," Snell said. "[Adams] made improvements to his own personal vehicle at taxpayer expense. I don't think that's appropriate."
Snell says the reimbursement as well as other failings that the audit brought to light will be a hot topic at this month's city council meeting on August 18, specifically who has access to city credit cards.
"It’s probably not appropriate for the people who control the purse strings to be able to use a credit card to make purchases," he said.
As for Adams, he says if Kaysville City demands he pay them back, he will.
When asking if he would pay back the $5,879 that the audit suggests, Adams replied, "I will pay you whatever you want. You want $10,000? You want $20,000?”
He then pulled out Big Red’s title and told Get Gephardt that he's broke. To come up with the money, he'd need to sell the fire engine. He says that would be “sad” and would mean the end of what’s become a fun tradition on the 4th of July.
"Maybe this chapter in Kaysville history is coming to a close," he said.