The Denton County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to request that the Argyle Volunteer Fire District be dissolved and absorbed by the Denton County Emergency Services District No. 1.
The move comes in the wake of the recent indictment and arrest of longtime Argyle Fire Chief Mac Hohenberger, who allegedly stole nearly $500,000 from fire department payroll funding to pay for his personal credit card expenses.
To the public, the ESD and AVFD seemed to be one and the same, especially considering the ESD went by the name Argyle Fire District until a couple years ago. But they’re separate entities, each with its own board. The ESD was established by the vote of residents in the ESD borders — including Argyle and Northlake — in 2006. Since then, the ESD has essentially only served as a taxing entities that contracts with the Argyle VFD, a nonprofit, to provide fire and EMS services for 42,000 southern Denton County residents. The Argyle VFD handles the payroll, and AVFD Chief Hohenberger apparently had control over that funding with little to no oversight, said Precinct 4 Commissioner Dianne Edmondson.
“What happened here is there were no real checks and balances in place,” Edmondson said. “The ESD contract indicated that the ESD had the right to inspect the books, but nobody thought there was any need to do that, so it never happened. We required the ESD to file an annual audit report with us, and there was nothing wrong, because the funds were all over at the AVFD, and they weren’t required to file a report with anybody.”
The FBI accuses Hohenberger of stealing money from firefighters’ pension funds. This potentially means there are significantly more losses than currently known.
“We don’t know yet, as far as the total misappropriation of these funds,” Edmondson said. “We have to determine how much wasn’t deposited, and what growth would those funds have enjoyed had they been deposited.”
Edmondson said the county will “do right by these firefighters” that have continued to serve the area despite the crisis surrounding Hohenberger.
“I think things will work out in the long run,” Edmondson said. “This is not something that is going to permanently cripple the ESD. We will work to get everything straightened out and do what’s right for the firefighters and the citizens.”
The Commissioners Court’s resolution called for a forensic audit on the operations and finances of both the AVFD and ESD, to complete the acquisition and transfer of employees of the AVFD to the ESD, and for the AVFD to “dissolve as soon as feasibly possible.” Kevin Mercer, president of the AVFD board, said the AVFD’s dissolution has been in the works for a few years now, but he doesn’t know how long it’ll take to complete.
“They (the Commissioners Court) want to get it resolved by the end of the year, it’s just not feasible or practical,” Mercer said. “But this is nothing new.”