Berwyn, Paoli & Radnor Fire Departments . . . Where’s the Money? (Or, . . . How Do You Cash a Cardboard Check?)

The dust has settled on the December 21 Board of Supervisor meeting and now its reality time for the Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor fire departments and their promised contribution.  Following the unveiling of the oversize cardboard check in the amount of $23,200 from local businesses and individuals (including  Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee’s $5K in matching funds), I posted a list of questions that I had concerning the contributions, the time line, and the process for distribution of funds to the fire departments.  Click here to read the posting, Is it OK to Fund Township Budget with Political Party Contributions?  (Make sure to read the 24 comments that followed that posting).  Also, click here to read my follow-up posting, Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Contribution Not Political? along with the accompanying comments which include a list of questions that I have surrounding the $23,200 gift to the fire departments.

Township Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson were responsible for the fire department fundraising whose efforts produced $23,200.  I was not certain if these supervisors read the Community Matters blog, so I sent the posted list of questions to each of them with a personal note asking for their comments and updates.  As of today, there has been no response from the three fundraising supervisors.

On behalf of the fire departments, and as my attempt to see that their financial commitments are honored, I continue to have concerns and questions surrounding the contribution.  It is my understanding that the fire departments have not yet received any of this money nor any promise as to when it will be received.  (Fire Company representatives please confirm or correct me if I’m wrong.) Channel 3 News had multiple showings of the infamous $23,200 cardboard check being turned over to the fire companies at the last Board of Supervisor Meeting. The Main Line Suburban newspaper ran an article (and photo of the cardboard check) along with the details of the generous contribution with leading statements indicating how this contribution helped save the Tredyffrin Township budget.  However, the news reporting and hype is all meaningless unless the check is real and that the money actually exists. 

Personally, I don’t know of any bank that is willing to accept a cardboard check deposit. When exactly does the cardboard $23,200 check become a currency that the fire companies can use?  Who is doing the follow-up collection?  In my past fundraising efforts, it is generally the responsibility of the fundraising committee to follow-up and make sure that gift from the donor is delivered to the recipient.  Will Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson being doing that legwork? I also asked for the complete list of donors to be made public.  I think that once this $23,200 donation became public information at the Board of Supervisor meeting, it becomes a ‘right to know’ issue and therefore should be public information.  Much in the same way, that once the BAWG report was accepted as a public report, the $50K suggested St. Davids Golf Club offer could be available for public discussion.

One of the questions that I am still struggling with is in regards to the appropriateness of a political party contribution to a fire company?  What is unclear to me is the ‘legalities’ of Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee (TTRC) giving money to the fire company. If the $5K in matching funds, which TTRC Chair C.T. Alexander committed to the fire companies was made up of individual donation checks that would be one thing.  But Mr. Alexander stated that the money was coming from the TTRC which implies to me that a check is to be written by the TTRC.  And exactly what ‘matching funds’ was Mr. Alexander referring to? This sets off a bell in my head . . . is it OK for a volunteer fire company to accept a contribution directly from a political party?  Does the individual charter of the fire company allow for the acceptance of such a gift from a political party?  I am confident that members of the TTRC who are lawyers (including Supervisor Kampf) would have counseled their organization on the legalities of such a gift, right?  Again, I have the questions but so far I’m coming up empty handed with the answers.

With just a few days remaining in 2009, I think all outstanding issues surrounding the fire company and the 2010 budget need to be answered.  In fairness to the Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor Fire Departments, let’s make sure that these volunteer nonprofit organizations receive the $23,200 that was promised on December 21, 2009.  In less than a week, on Monday, January 4, 2010 the first Board of Supervisors meeting for the new year will take place. Now is the time for all unfinished 2009 business to be completed.

The ‘Big Give’ in Tredyffrin

In today’s Main Line Suburban newspaper, Malvern resident Kathleen Keohane writes the following Letter to the Editor, titled The ‘Big Give’ in Tredyffrin.  Kathleen’s take on Monday night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting is a poignant reminder to us all on the importance of sufficient funding to our volunteer fire companies.  Here is her letter from the paper:

To the Editor:

After following Tredyffrin’s budget brouhaha for several months, I attended Tredyffrin’s final Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Monday night with a mixture of hope and low expectations. As one of many who came to support full restoration of 2009 funding levels for our volunteer fire companies to the 2010 budget, I doubted there would be enough votes to reverse the cut but I had hope the Christmas spirit would move at least one supervisor to change his mind.

Instead, at the start of the meeting, BOS chair Warren Kampf pre-empted a nasty shout fest by announcing to a standing-room-only crowd that over the last two weeks he and fellow supervisors Paul Olson and Bob Lamina had gotten commitments from local businesses and residents to the tune of $23,200 to close the gap. Mr. Kampf said he thought even more private contributions were likely. He seemed very pleased that no taxpayer dollars were involved.

Short-term, it is good news for the cash-strapped fire companies, but it offers no assurance of future funding. As Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro noted, some of these generous end-of-year donors may be ones who would normally contribute directly to the fire companies and will not do so again during their 2010 fund drives. It is hard to gauge the net effect of this.

Also, the problem of establishing reliable funding streams to allow Paoli, Berwyn and Radnor fire companies to plan for major equipment purchases and other capital expenditures in the future remains. Though fire and EMS services are among the most essential services a township provides, these volunteer companies are left to wonder what lies ahead.

In my view and that of over 500 residents who signed a petition in support of maintaining fire funding at 2009 levels, it is ultimately the responsibility of local government and not private citizens or groups to ensure adequate fire protection. The buck stops with the board.

And we must not take a step backwards! If anything, Tredyffrin supervisors should be looking for ways to increase their support for our volunteer organizations in the future. We need to support them in ways that enhance the fire companies’ ability to recruit more volunteers, whose interests lie in helping the community – not in year-round fund-raising or enduring dismissive treatment from tone-deaf supervisors.

In this era of declining civic engagement, we need to honor our volunteer firefighters/EMTs, who put their lives on the line for us. Not providing a dedicated and predictable level of funding is disrespectful to them and endangers our community’s safety.

The proposed budget cuts to our firefighters sent the wrong message. And while one-time private contributions are much appreciated, they are a seat-of-the-pants response to an ongoing problem.

Kathleen Keohane, Malvern

Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee Contribution Not Political?

I have kept busy with the moderation of many comments to my earlier posting, Question – Is it OK to Fund Township Budget With Political Party Contribution?  This posting has opened a firestorm of dialogue which I think is really useful for the community.  I thank the many readers for their comments and also thank local political committee members for offering their insights. In further review of last night’s Board of Supervisor meeting, I do have a few additional questions; any clarification from supervisors, fire company representatives, political committee members, residents, would be greatly appreciated. 

  • Is the $23,200 check that was presented last night to the fire companies, an actual check that represents funds received to date?
  • Or does the check represent pledges made by individuals/businesses?
  • If the check represents pledges, what is the timeline for the fire companies to receive the money?
  • How does the individual/business know which fire company to make their check payable to?
  • Or is one fire company acting as the central clearing house and will in turn make the distribution of funds to the other 2 fire companies?
  • Will the distribution of funds be proportionate to each of the fire companies based on their individual budget requirements?
  • Do you think that the contributions from individuals/business for this Holiday Contribution Drive may affect what these donors will regularly give to the fire companies in 2010?
  • CT Alexander stated that he was Chair of the Tredyffrin Twp Republican Committee (TTRC) and that his party was giving $5K in ‘matching funds’; by attaching this statement to his organization’s gift, is this not viewed as a political contribution?
  • I would suggest that if the contribution from TTRC had not been a public TTRC contribution but rather given annonymously, than it would not be a political contribution.
  • Mr. Alexander stated that the TTRC contribution was in matching funds; what exactly does that mean?  Matching to another contribution? If so, which one?
  • Supervisor Kampf read some of the names of businesses and individuals as public record.  For clarification purposes, will he be providing the public with a complete list of all contributors and the amount of each contribution?
  • Based on last night’s meeting, is it an accurate statement to say that Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson raised $18,200 in additional funds to the $5K contribution from the TTRC?

Sorry for so many questions.  I’m one of those people who is a stickler for policy and procedure.  I wrote my Masters of Public Administration thesis on government organizational theory so I am just trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together from last night’s amazing financial offer to our local fire companies.  Maybe the three supervisors who are responsible for arranging this generous fire company gift can shed some light on my questions.  Supervisors Kampf, Lamina, Olson can you help me understand how this Holiday Contribution Drive is to work?

2010 Township Budget Passes Without Much Fanfare!

Tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting made me feel like the kid on Christmas morning.  You know after weeks of anticipation, it’s finally Christmas morning.  You get up early, race to see what Santa has brought, rip open the presents and then a short time later you have that letdown is that all there is kind of feeling.

Although tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting certainly had its high points, I came away feeling it was a bit anti-climatic based on the intensity which developed over the last couple of weeks. The meeting did get off to a very exciting start though — the fire company members arrived in force and brought fire trucks for effect!  Young and old firefighters lined up around the entire perimeter of Keene Hall creating a very moving visual statement.  CBS 3 Eyewitness News reporter and photographer filmed the meeting!   I just watched the news – only about 15 seconds worth made it to the news!

Chairman Warren Kampf opened the meeting explaining that we would not follow the agenda, but rather start with the budget.  Prior to opening the discussion on the budget, Mr. Kampf announced that there had been a fundraising effort by some of the supervisors over the last couple of weeks to raise funds for the fire companies to make up for their proposed budget contribution cuts.   Through private donations, the Holiday Contribution Drive raised $23,200. Mr. Kampf read a long list of businesses and individuals who had made contributions (list included Comcast, Fellini’s, San Nicola, etc.).  I have a feeling that this money was received in pledge format, so I am a bit concerned about the follow-up and collection.

With the money coming in from private donations to support the fire department’s reinstatement of the proposed budget cuts, there was no reason not to approve the budget.  There was some shared concerned from audience members that this private donation check to the fire companies is a quick-fix for the 2010 budget and that the money does not represent a longterm solution.  And there were many in the audience who believed that funding emergency services should be 100% funded by all taxpayers through the township budget rather than with private donations. (A sentiment shared by Supervisor JD DiBuonaventuro.) In fact, Berwyn Fire Department president Rip Tilden delivered a very passionate commentary concerning the ongoing and future needs of the fire company.  Although Mr. Tilden (as well as the representatives from Paoli and Radnor fire companies) are extremely grateful for this show of community support, we were all left wondering why it required such an outpouring of energy, ePetition, letters to the editor, blog postings, etc. over the last couple of weeks.  Remember, if we had to pay for the volunteer services of these firefighters it is estimated at $7-12 Million yearly.  Here’s hoping that all supervisors (including those taking office in a few weeks) will remember tonight’s meeting when work begins on the 2011 budget.  In the end, the budget passed 6-1 (Supervisor Mark DiFeliciantonio was the only vote of opposition).  It should also be noted that Supervisor DiFeliciantonio left the Board of Supervisor meeting once the budget vote was taken.  His departure struck me as  highly inappropriate as all departing supervisors were to be officially honored during tonight’s meeting.

There were other noteworthy items discussed during this meeting (including the accolades for the departing supervisors, update on St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K sidewalk offer, etc.) but I think that discussion will have to wait until tomorrow.  And I’m also hoping that a couple of my friends who attended tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting will offer their personal insights.

The Clock is Ticking Down . . . Where Will you be Tonight?

The clock is ticking down to the final Board of Supervisor Meeting of 2009. Tonight’s meeting, 7:30 PM in Keene Hall, Township Building, will contain the approval of the 2010 township budget.  Remembering the last 2 meetings, I expect that tonight’s meeting will again be electrifying, dramatic, emotional . . . and any other adjectives you care to add.  I suggest that you either plan on attending or watch from home.  Remember folks, this is our township and our money that we are talking about!

How will each of the 7 supervisors decide to vote on next-years budget? I recall the draft budget was approved 4-2 (Bob Lamina was absent) Will the fire company’s see their budget contribution reinstated?  I just checked and the ePetition to reinstate the firefighters contribution is at 513 signatures.  There’s still time to  join these residents and show your support for the firefighters, click here to sign the petition. 

Do you think that the appeals from the residents and business community will make a difference in how each supervisor will cast his/her vote? What’s that saying about the “will of the people”?  Will that be recognized? How about the reinstatement of the staff longevity pay . . . will that be included in the final budget?  Do you remember the passionate plea from a township staff member at the last Board of Supervisor meeting; she suggested that some of the employees may be receiving as much as a 14% cut if the proposed budget passes.  Can we expect further discussion about St. Davids Golf Club and the $50K offer in the BAWG report?   There was a subcommittee created to discuss the sidewalk issue; will the public receive an update?

Tonight’s meeting will honor 3 supervisors who are retiring – John Shimrak, Mark DiFeliciantonio and my best friend, Judy DiFilippo.  John stepped in to finish out Bill DeHaven’s term and Mark completes his term, serving 4 years.  Tonight is a landmark meeting for Judy; it will mark her 20th (and final) year of serving on the Board of Supervisors – what a remarkable accomplishment of service to this community!  I am sure that you join me in thanking all three for their time and commitment.

In case you missed it, here is the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

Berwyn Firefighter Mike Baskin Responds to Fundraising Posting

The following comment just came in from Berwyn firefighter Mike Baskin in regards to fire company fundraising.  Although I posted this comment with the appropriate blog posting, I think Mike’s comments deserve more attention.  Please take the time to review Mike’s thorough examination of this local fire company’s fundraising efforts.  Remember, all this fundraising is in addition to fighting fires!

____________________________________________________________

I can further add information about Berwyn’s Fund raising. It is important that people know as much information as they can about the fire companies and what they do.
I served as fund raising coordinator at Berwyn for 5 years from 2001 – 2006. It was some of the most frustrating years of my life…I lost far too much hair on my head those years.
Frustrations:
1) Motivating volunteers who already give hundreds of hour to training and running calls to put in time to fund raise. Fund raising is not why they joined.
2) Fund raising is not as easy as it sounds. During my time as coordinator, I probably had 200 conversations with local residents who stated they don’t donate because they pay taxes. When they are advised how little of their taxes go to the fire companies, they feel that it still should not be their responsibility to have to pay more money on their own. It’s a losing battle.
3) I was often told that we need to do a better job of getting our message out there. Every fund raising letter that was sent out (2 times per year per household) had the breakdown of where our funding comes from and the importance of the funding. How many people do you think open this letter? How many people do you think treat it as junk mail and put it right in the trash?
4) Businesses… We have our few reliable, local, mom & pop business that contribute regularly each year (and a few others). But for the most part, the larger businesses are too busy, too difficult to contact the right person without weeks of games, or are often not headquartered in our area. Getting money out of businesses is a full time job. The small shops who struggle to stay in business donate, but the big boys won’t play. We appreciate what we receive by our businesses, as it is such a small number, every dollar counts.
5) I personally spent over a thousand hours over 3 years putting together the revitalization of the Berwyn Fair. We did 2 years, Very Few Came.
The Horse show was too expensive to hold it there, we weren’t welcomed anywhere else. We had trouble finding ride companies to do it based on poor attendance.
6) If people are hurting for money, they won’t donate, and that is simple arithmetic.

As far as statistics: (note: this is Berwyn numbers only)
In 2008
Fire Fund drive (10,000 residents) = approx 25% return
EMS Fund Drive (same 10,000 residents later in the year) = approx 25% return
*overall: approximately 32% of 10,000 residents donated once, therefore some residents donated twice. But that means 68% of residents do not donate at all.
Business Drive (2200 businesses) = 5% return, therefore 95% of business do not donate.

2009 Numbers are slightly lower, probably to the tune of 8-10%, but final numbers are not in and some people wait until the end of December (tax time).

The fire company has anticipated another decrease for 2010.

I stepped down as fund raising chair after 5 years because I grew tired of the frustrations noted above. Fund raising at many non-profit organizations is an employed position. Berwyn Fire Co raises over $200,000 of money on our own. It is the equivilant of a part time job by itself to coordinate that, but it’s being done by volunteers. To do more would be a lot to ask, especially at a time when so many are out of work or on fixed incomes…. the money is harder to ask for and receive.

A bit more about me… (because I feel as though the interpersonal aspects of the volunteer world get lost very easy)
I have been a member of Berwyn Fire Co for 13 years as a Fire Police Officer & EMT. I have logged over 700 hours of formal certification training in my time. I Have served three three-year terms as Captain of the Fire Police (which also holds a Board of Director’s seat). So therefore I have been a Board of Director for 9 years. I was recently re-elected to another 2 year term which begins January 7th. In my younger days, I averaged 300-400 Fire calls per year and another 300-400 ambulance calls per year… In the last 4 or 5 years I have significantly grown a business from scratch that I stated as a young businessman out of college 8 years ago. So these days, I run closer to 200 fire calls and 100 Ambulance calls. In my time at the fire company, I have served my community well with a variety of plaques on my wall, which have minimal amount of value in comparison to the lives I have helped save and protect.

I am not unique. The Berwyn Fire Company has many many members who each have their own list of accomplishments and values they add to the table. We are filled with a variety of people from CEO’s, Chemists, Police Officers, Architects, Mechanics, and the list goes on.

Thanks for your time, and considerations on this matter. Politics aside, if this reaches people so they learn more, it did it’s job today.

Respectfully,
Mike Baskin

Just in . . . Paoli Business & Professional Association Supports Reinstatement of Fire Company Budget Cut

I am on the Board of Directors of Paoli Business and Professional Association and I am pleased to report that our organization has approved the following statement of support for the reinstatement of the fire company budget cut. A copy of the statement will be emailed to each member of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors.

__________________________________________________

Dear Tredyffrin Township Supervisors,

Our organization supports the Paoli, Berwyn and Radnor Fire Companies and the volunteer firefighters. Our support does not include Tredyffrin Township’s proposed 5% reduction in contributions for local fire and emergency services. We ask that the Board of Supervisors maintain the 2010 fire company funding at the 2009 level.

Sincerely,
Board of Directors
Paoli Business and Professional Association

Board of Supervisor Meeting – Monday, December 21

Here is the agenda for the Board of Supervisor Meeting for Monday, December 21, 7:30 PM.  The final budget will be approved at this last meeting of the year. Will the fire companies see their 5% cut reinstated?  Will the ePetition make a difference in the decision-making process? (Over 460 people have signed it, is your name on the list?)  Will the audience hear any follow-up to the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk issue . . what is the status on the subcommittee which was formed? 

Based on the last 2 Board of Supervisor meetings, I am forecasting another episode of action packed, reality must-watch TV for Monday night!

Immediately following the Board of Supervisor Meeting, there will be a Public Hearing to:

  • Amend the Pension Ordinance to change the employee contribution
  • Increase the Sewer Utility Rate for the year 2010 to $250/EDU

Paoli Fire Company – Open Letter to Tredyffrin’s Residents

I just received the following open letter to the township from a Board member of the Paoli Fire Company with a request to post.  The letter is well-written and like Berwyn and Radnor fire companies speaks to the real need to reinstate the contribution cut proposed in Tredyffrin’s draft 2010 budget.  Please take the time to read the letter.

December 7, 2009

Dear Tredyffrin Resident,

The Paoli Fire Company supports a Tredyffrin Township budget which does not include the proposed 5% reduction in capital and operating support for the localfire companies serving Tredyffrin Township.

Local fire and emergency services are provided to Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships by the Berwyn, Paoli, and Radnor Fire Companies. The majority ofthe townships’ territory is serviced by the Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies.

The Paoli Fire Company’s annual operating budget is approximately $1.6 Million. We raise about 80% of that money primarily through our own fundraising efforts and by billing insurance companies for ambulance calls. Approximately $88K or 5.5% of our annual operating budget is paid for by contributions from Tredyffrin Township. For the past two years, we have received a capital contribution from Tredyffrin totaling $33K per year. Our fire engines, support vehicles, and rescue equipment cost approximately $3 million, and we follow a disciplined long range capital plan to replace them as they reach the end of their useful life. We pay for the replacement of those vehicles from our own savings, state funds, state loans, and whatever capital funds are provided by the townships.

For 2010, Eastlown Township decided to maintain the level of funding (both operating and capital) for the Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies at the 2009 level. Tredyffrin Township has preliminarily approved a budget that will reduce its township contribution to our operating and capital budgets by 5% compared to 2009 funding levels. While this is a relatively small amount of money in the Township’s total budget, it is significant to us and we feel it is a mistake for the township to move down this path because every dollar is vital to our volunteer company and it sets a precedent that may be hard to reverse in future years.

The number of fire and emergency services apparatus housed at the Paoli and Berwyn fire departments has been deemed “adequate” to handle fire services in Tredyffrin and Eastlown by an independent consultant and the Insurance Services Organization (ISO). Any change in this status would change the township’s ISO rating and possibly the insurance rates throughout the township.

The term ‘share the pain’ has been used when explaining the cuts in Tredyffrin. While we understand and acknowledge this sentiment, the Board of Supervisors and community must realize that the level of township support we receive is quite low when compared with our total financial needs. We believe that more needs to be done to support the volunteer and paid professionals who are accountable to the community everyday. In 2008, we responded over 1,600 times in performing the mission we were founded to fulfill in 1909.

Two other sources of funding have been reduced this year as well. The funding we receive from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for our Relief Association dropped 10% from 2009. These funds are restricted to safety and training related items and have a very limited use to the general operation of the fire company. At the same time, our fund drive numbers (voluntary contributions from citizens and businesses we serve) are lower in 2009 than 2008. We expect that they will also be lower in 2010 than in 2009. Along with the reduction in reimbursement for ambulance service the pressure to operate with a budget that is declining in revenue and increasing in cost continues to grow.

We ask that Tredyffrin maintain our 2010 funding at the 2009 level. We provide a monthly financial activity report to Tredyffrin Township to improve our transparency and to put a cost on the service we provide to the citizens.

Regardless of the final decision of the Board, our organization is committed to working with our elected officials and community to resolve the longstanding issue of how to fund emergency services with a dedicated funding stream.

We encourage you to reach out to members of the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors to let them know your view on this critical public safety funding issue. You can email them at bos@tredyffrin.org or attend the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. to voice your concerns directly to the Supervisors.

You can also sign an ePetition in support of the three fire companies that service Tredyffrin. The address is http://tredto.epetitions.net/. We hope you will support us and ask that Fire/EMS funding for the Berwyn Fire Company, Paoli Fire Company, and Radnor Fire Company be reinstated to 2009 levels.

Sincerely,

The Members of the Paoli Fire Company

Fire Company Comments re Fundaising . . . Should Fire Fighters Supplement the Budget Deficiency with Fundraising Efforts?

Comments to my last posting have raised interesting dialogue concerning the township requirement to provide emergency service to the public vs. requirement of the fire houses to further fundraise to increase their coffers.  (Read the comments to the last post).  One commentator suggested that if each household gave $2, the $21K could be raised by the public.  In theory, that would be correct, but as pointed out at the last Board of Supervisor meeting by several (including Bill DeHaven) the public can no be relied upon for contributions.

Read the comments and then weigh in — do you think that our volunteer fire firefighters should increase their fundraising to make up the shortfall with the township budget cut?  Or how about the volunteer fire fighters base their support, on the public’s support?  In other words, they hold back support until the public makes up the financial deficit?

I would be curious if the fire companies could elaborate on their fundraising efforts.  For instance, I know that Paoli Fire Company does an annual contribution drive, does Berwyn and Radnor do likewise? Any details that you could provide would be helpful – however, please understand that I think that your volunteerism efforts as a fire fighter should not require anything further; you provide a service that the township is required to provide to its residents.

As I See It . . . Commentary on Board of Supervisors Meeting & Call to Reinstate the Fire Company Budget Cut from Another Township Resident

Over the last few days there has been much discussion about Supervisor Bob Lamina’s  As I See It: Supervisor’s take on Tredyffrin budget: Fair and balanced recent article in the Main Line Suburban.  There was another equally as powerful article in the paper, written by Malvern resident Kathleen Keohane which offers her opinion on the last Board of Supervisor Meeting and includes support to the fire company’s reinstatement of their budget cut.  For the sake of fairness, I want Ms. Keohane’s As I See It: Not much good, but plenty of bad and ugly at Tredyffrin meeting article to receive the same degree of attention.  As taxpayers and residents of Tredyffrin Township, I think we all need to reflect on our expectations from our local government, our leaders and where this township is heading in 2010.  Post your comments here, on the Main Line Suburban’s website or directly to the township supervisors at bos@tredyfrin.org

As I See It: Not much good, but plenty of bad and ugly at Tredyffrin meeting

In all the years I’ve lived in Tredyffrin, I have never seen such theater as I witnessed during Monday night’s supervisors’ meeting!

First, a long-serving supervisor decided to leave office with her integrity intact by clearing the air on an issue the board had tried to sweep under the rug – the source of $50,000 in potential revenue recommended by the Business Advisory Working Group (BAWG) in their report. A concerned citizen had stood up at the last BOS meeting to ask how such a recommendation could have made it into the report to the township. Chairman Kampf refused to answer. The topic on the agenda was the budget, he said, and since the $50,000 did not appear in next year’s budget, he would not address it.

In refusing to answer Ms. Benson’s straightforward questions, Mr. Kampf looked like a foolish prevaricator. Ms. Benson remained standing and asked again. Then it became theater of the absurd as every township official and BAWG member sat mute. Apparently no one knew anything about this money. Not even members of the BAWG, who ironically had just received plaques for their hard work on behalf of the community.

The stonewalling raised more questions, but as of last week’s board of supervisors’ meeting, it seemed there would be no answers – until supervisor DiFilippo matter-of-factly reported at Monday’s meeting that the $50,000 offer had come from supervisor Paul Olson last year but had never been put in writing. It was a rare moment of truth.

The origin of an offer by St. Davids Golf Club to pay the township $50,000 was made to get out of a contractual agreement signed back in 2004. The offer became public at a special meeting last month when BAWG chair Tom Colman made a presentation of recommended budget cuts and additional revenue sources. When the offer was made, St. Davids was already in breach of its agreement to construct a sidewalk along the north side of its property on Upper Gulph Road. In addition it turns out that supervisor John Shimrak is a board member of St. Davids and BAWG member Rob Betts is also a member of the golf club.

Ms. DiFilippo stated her opinion that 1) if the township were ever to consider the offer, St. Davids should have to pay the equivalent of the actual construction costs, 2) the funds should be held in a separate Sidewalk Fund, and 3) only the planning commission could approve such a decision, having imposed the sidewalk requirement in the first place as part of a building permit. Not surprisingly the Planning Commission had already denied St. Davids’ waiver request in 2008, at which point it was in breach.

While the facts behind this backroom deal settled over the room, recently retired supervisor Bill DeHaven stepped to the microphone to express some strong opinions. He called the entire sidewalk controversy a red herring. And then he proceeded to criticize his former colleagues’ 2010 budget as one of misplaced priorities, with no evidence of planning – a “get-by budget,” he called it.

DeHaven, a retired police officer, made an emotional plea to restore the fire companies’ funding for 2010. “I love this township. I want it to stay as great as it is and move forward. And I’m willing to pay for it.” He urged the imposition of a dedicated fire tax so that residents would know exactly how much they contributed for fire and emergency medical services.

Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson defended the fire cuts as necessary. At that point supervisor John DiBuonaventuro responded that he was truly offended that $21,000 for fireworks remained in the budget while funding for the fire companies had been reduced by an equivalent amount. And that ironically firefighters would be expected to work for free on the Fourth of July. He reminded the board that its first responsibility was to protect the township’s residents.

If all of this wasn’t dramatic enough, a township clerical worker bravely stood up and spoke bluntly to her bosses. She said that she was one of 24 office workers who had formed a union several years ago because they felt it was the only way they would be able to make a decent living. The elimination of their longevity pay in next year’s budget meant 6-14-percent cuts in their salaries. And since seven clerical workers had been laid off in October, those remaining were expected to take up all the slack. Their average salary: $40,000. The woman expressed her feeling that the supervisors’ decision to make steep cuts instead of raising taxes to pay for necessary services was a mistake. You get the level of service you pay for, she said. She urged everyone to study the budget cuts carefully.

As the emotional pleas from board members, former board members and residents wore on, supervisor Bob Lamina announced that he had decided that he could not support fireworks over fire companies. John DiBuonaventuro immediately asked that the fire companies’ funding be reinstated. Anti-climactically, BOS chair Mr. Kampf refused to consider it. And then he launched into an emotional defense of all the budget cuts as necessary given the current economic climate. “We have a choice,” he said, “to go to the taxpayers or look to ourselves. So we decided to tighten our belts.”

The entire meeting lasted about 75 minutes but it seemed an eternity. In the process, a backroom deal revealed. Emotional pleas for and against budget cuts. All peppered with insulting remarks made by supervisors and citizens alike. You must watch a rebroadcast of this meeting. And then weigh in as a citizen. You can contact your supervisors at bos@tredyffrin.org.

Can Social Networking Change the Outcome of the Township Budget?

I have only been out of the country for a little over 24 hours, go to turn on my computer and discover that social networking in the form of an ePetition is now in place in Tredyffrin.  The ePetition has been created to help reverse the tides over the fire company’s 5% cut in contributions contained in the recently approved draft 2010 township budget.  If you support the reinstatement of the fire company contribution, you are asked to sign the online ePetition.  I would encourage you to read the ePetition even if you are unsure about adding your signature.  And if you do support the reinstatement of the 5% cut, you are asked to forward it to your township neighbors and friends.

I am fascinated by the use of social networking in this manner.  Recently, a group of Tredyffrin Easttown School District parents banded together to oppose the elimination of the FLES (Foreign Language Elementary School) program in the 2010-11 budget and created an online ePetition to support their cause.  (I included the link to the FLES ePetition in an earlier posting).  Although the FLES program is on the budget chopping block, do you think the ePetition can make a difference?  I just checked their petition and since November 11, 630+ people have signed the petition to save the FLES program in the school district.  Is that a significant number to make a difference to the School Board directors?  What about the fire company . . . do you think that the ePetition can help reinstate their contribution loss?

It is interesting that the empowerment and transparency characteristics of social computing initiatives may be able to disrupt existing power balances.  The sharing of information by the crowd enables citizens to hold public officials to account. Social computing offers an effective means of mobilizing support, disseminating information and providing advice on specific issues. Online, people seem to come together around specific issues, where they can enhance their knowledge by the wisdom of the crowd, so to speak.  I see this in the comments that people share on my blog, Community Matters and also in the online dialogue of John Petersen’s blog, Tredyffrin Township Political NetworkWho knows the future influence of social networking? 

Signing the ePetition on behalf of the Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli fire fighters shows the mobilization and support of the community and the individual citizens.  It will be exciting see how many of our residents will sign the petition before December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting, and more exciting to it can evoke change!

Berwyn & Radnor Fire Companies Offer Written Public Statements

Both the Berwyn and Radnor Fire Companies have now written public statements concerning their individual budgets and the 5% budget cut contained in Tredyffrin Township’s proposed 2010 budget. 

In an open letter to the Tredyffrin community, members of the Berwyn Fire Company respond to the proposed 5% budget cut.  The letter also includes required upcoming capital expenditures. Here is an excerpt from their letter, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety and respond accordingly. 

For 2010, Easttown Township has decided to maintain the level of funding (both operating and capital) for the Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies at the 2009 level. Tredyffrin Township has preliminarily approved a budget that will reduce its township contribution to our operating and capital budgets by 5% compared to 2009 funding levels. While this is a relatively small amount of money in the townships’ total budget, we feel it is a mistake for the township to move down this path-both because every dollar matters to our volunteer company and because we feel it sets a precedent that may be hard to reverse in future years.  

I have just received notice that the Radnor Fire Company has followed suit and their Radnor Fire Company President David Roderick and Chief James Kelly have issued a formal public statement on the proposed 5% reduction in support from Tredyffrin Township. Their letter likewise details the financial difficulties facing their volunteer fire company.  In addition, Radnor Fire Company provides clarification that their organization does not receive capital support from Tredyffrin Township.  Below is an excerpt from their public statement.

We will be already dealing with a 10% cut in support we receive from the Commonwealth and our fund drive numbers look to be down based on 2009 numbers. We are not asking for an increase and we stand together with our fellow Tredyffrin fire companies in Berwyn and Paoli.

Unfortunately, we were unaware that Tredyffrin Township was proposing cuts to our funding only until a few weeks ago. Furthermore, we never had an opportunity to present to the Tredyffrin Township Finance Committee or to the Citizen Budget Advisory Work Group that was established to perform a comprehensive budget review in ‘09.

It is interesting to note that the BAWG committee did not contact the Fire Departments directly before making their recommendations in their recently released report.  I have stated this before, but will re-state — unlike other reductions contained within the proposed 2010 budget, it must be acknowledged that the fire companies are almost entirely volunteer organizations.  Once again, the savings to the taxpayers of Tredyffrin Township is estimated to be $7-12 million annually!  The proposed 5% reduction in contribution to Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli Fire Companies is in addition to the 10% cut from the Commonwealth.  Read their open letters to the community — these organizations are being honest and transparent in appealing to the community for support! 

Lights, Camera, Action . . . Board of Supervisor Meeting!

Lights . . . Camera . . . Action!  A Hollywood screenwriter could not have scripted last night’s Board of Supervisor meeting any better.  Drama, Comedy, Suspense . . . the night had all the elements for a made-for-TV movie!

During the New Matters section of last night’s agenda, the audience watched as the individual personalities of the supervisors emerged; at times leaving the audience wondering who exactly was in charge.  Joining the cast of characters was ex-supervisor Bill DeHaven who chimed in multiple times from the audience-side of the dais.  Larger-than-life personality, Mr. DeHaven’s passion in his support of the fire companies was evident to all.  He chastised the supervisors for not having a long-range budget plan, suggesting that their current proposed budget was shortsighted and represented a band-aid solution to a far greater problem.  He further suggested that the supervisors go back to the drawing board and figure out how to ‘fix’ the proposed budget before December 21.  One of his recommendations was a ‘fire tax’ that would help fund the fire companies’ expenses.  (Interesting concept, why not explore further?) Mr. DeHaven’s criticisms of the proposed budget incensed Supervisor Bob Lamina, escalating to an angry exchange of words. 

Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro tried to steer the boat to a higher ground, with his continued support to reinstate the township’s 5% budget cut back to the Fire Company budget. An interesting player last night was Supervisor Mark DiFeliciantonio.  I’m not sure if Mr. DiFeliciantonio’s behavior was due to his lame duck status on the Board or his impassioned support of the Fire Company and EMS services.  Unfortunately, from my perspective Mr. DiFeliciantonio overstepped his position, when suggesting to resident Ray Clarke that he was not interested in hearing what he had to say; declaring that he was tired of Mr. Clarke saying the same thing, meeting after meeting.  Shame on this elected supervisor – when you are elected by the people of this township, you are elected to serve, and to listen to them all.   

Although I support open public debate among Board members, last night represented a fine line between respectful discussion and overt, antagonistic personal attacks.  At one point, Supervisor Warren Kampf offered a lengthy personal diatribe supporting his position to accept the proposed 2010 budget, which continues to be offered to the public as a ‘balanced budget’. (Several residents made public comments in support of raising taxes in lieu of reduction of township services).  It was during Mr. Kampf’s closing remarks that Mr. DiFeliciantonio abruptly stood up, walked through the audience and out the door.  Not sure what we were to take from his dramatic exit . . . what kind of message was this elected official looking to send?  Following Mr. Kampf’s remarks, Mr. DeHaven had the last word of the evening, suggesting that Supervisor Kampf was campaigning from the bench.

Last night this taxpayer had some questions answered (the mystery surrounding the alleged $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club was put to rest by Supervisor Judy DiFilippo, which I addressed in my last posting) but other questions still remain. I am struggling to understand the sewer fund/streetlight issue.  I thought that the sewer fund was a stand alone operation and any additional fees proposed in the budget were to simply cover expenses.  Does the sewer fund actually subsidize the township streetlights? I do not understand the connection. If there is someone who has a better understanding of the sewer fund/streetlight issue, I’m appealing for some clarification. 

Between now and the final Board of Supervisor Meeting of the year, on December 21, if you have thoughts about the proposed budget, post a comment here, write a Letter to the Editor, send emails to the Board of Supervisors and the Township Manager.  I encourage you to get involved; let your voice be heard.  If you have a chance, please look for the rebroadcast of last night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting.  The meeting presented an up close and personal look at our elected officials and shed an interesting light on the inner workings of our local government.

Stay tuned for the next installment – update on the Fire Department later today.

Township Meeting Tonight . . . Will There be More Budget Discussion?

Tonight is a Board of Supervisor Meeting, 7:30 PM at the Township Building.  Although the agenda does not include further budget discussion, citizens are certainly welcome to bring up budget comments/concerns under ‘New Matters’.  The 2010 budget will be voted on at the December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting, so I suggest that if you have strong opinions you need to be there tonight to offer your comments.  If you recall, the draft budget passed at the November 30 meeting without any changes.  There is still time for budget discussion, but the clock is ticking!