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.

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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

Bad News for Easttown Township – Our Neighbors Receive a 12% Tax Increase

Our neighbors in Easttown Township are faced with a 2010 budget that includes a 12% real estate tax increase which includes a new $52 Local Service Tax (LST) for all those who work in the township.  The budget deficit facing the township for 2010 was approximately $500K and the LST will provide approximately $135K revenue.  Easttown Supervisor Ed Strogen was the sole dissenter on the 2010 budget and has doubts that the full estimated LST will actually be collected.  Supervisor Strogen was also a strong supporter of instituting an Earned Income Tax (EIT) in the township; raising the point of how much revenue residents are currently paying to other municipalities (who do have an Earned Income Tax).  A tax collection company suggested that imposing a 1% EIT in Easttown Township would have provided $1 Million revenue in 2010, and $3 Million the following years.  Unfortunately, the support was not there for the institution this year of an EIT.  However, passing their 2010 budget with a 12% tax increase to the taxpayers is going to be difficult for many of their residents.  This increase will certainly be challenging to those retired individuals on fixed incomes.

In the aftermath of the 2010 budget passage, Supervisor Strogen contends that an EIT will need to be implemented in the next few years. Let’s remember that Tredyffrin residents are currently paying $3 Million to other municipalities (which have an EIT) and it was determined that the implementation of an EIT in Tredyffrin would result in revenues of approximately $8 Million.  The difference between Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships on the subject of EIT, was that Easttown provided an open town hall forum for thorough discussion of the subject, whereas Tredyffrin did not.

Easttown’s primary budget problem stems from their loss of real estate transfer tax which accounts for approximately 18% of all its budgeted revenue.  Like Tredyffrin, Easttown’s budget has suffered with the downturn in real estate transfers, increased cost of services and the severity of our economic times.  Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships need to become more proactive in their long-range budget forecasting.  In both of these municipalities, what has played out in this budget cycle has been a short-term Band-Aid approach.  These townships should not wait until 2nd or 3rd quarter to begin to  look at 2011, but rather they need to start in January with focused, out-of-the-box exploration of all possible revenue sources.  Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships barely got by with the 2010 budget round and I think it’s going to be far more difficult to pull off an 11th hour ‘quick fix’ save for the 2011 budget!

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 Budget Includes $50 Sewer Increase . . . Tax vs. Fee Increase or Simply Semantics!

In the last couple of minutes of last night’s Board of Supervisor Meeting something very interesting occurred.  The regular meeting had ended and the Public Hearing had a couple of items, one of which was to increase the Sewer Utility Rate for the year 2010 to $250/EDU.   Increasing the Sewer Utility Rate to $250 is a $50 increase which equates to a 25% increase and affects 80% of the township.  There was much bantering about this being a fee increase rather than calling it a tax increase.  To me, the end result is the same . . . more money is coming out of the taxpayers pocket.  Let’s not forget the mantra during this recent election cycle was based on not raising taxes.  Isn’t a 25% increase in the sewer rate raising taxes?  Again, I don’t care what you call it . . . the taxpayer is paying $50 more!  Can we please expect honesty and transparency from our local government leaders?

The interesting part for me was that moments earlier the Board of Supervisors had approved the 2010 budget which included this $50 increase to the Sewer Utility Rate.  We now have the motion presented in the Public Hearing to ‘officially’ adopt this increase.  Supervisors Shimrak, Olson, Lamina and DiFilippo voted for the increase; Supervisor DiBuonaventuro voted against, followed by Supervisor Kampf against the increase.  At this point of the evening Supervisor DiFeliciantonio had already left the meeting.   What was fascinating was as Supervisor Kampf called for the votes, he started at his right and there were 3 votes in favor of the increase (Shimrak, Olson and DiFilippo).  He quickly jumps to get Lamina’s vote in favor so that he would be able to vote ‘no’ to the increase along with Supervisor DiBuonaventuro.  This way Supervisor Kampf could get the motion to pass for the sewer increase but politically be able to still claim that ‘he had not raised taxes’.  What was this gamemanship about?  Had Ms. DiFilippo not voted in favor of the increase, the vote would have been 3-3 (rather than 4-2) and would not have carried.  If the motion for the Sewer Utility Rate increase had not passed, it would have been back to the drawing board for the just-passed 2010 budget!

Question – Is it OK to Fund Township Budget With Political Party Contribution?

Originally, I was not going to write about a contribution that was received last night at the Board of Supervisor meeting.  But the more I think about it, the more uneasy I’m feeling about what kind of message we are sending.  As Supervisor Chair Kampf read the list of contributors to the $23,200 which will fund the reinstatement of the fire company’s budget cut, I was impressed by the varied list of area businesses and individuals on the list.  He read a contribution from the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee (TTRC) – I remember thinking this seemed an interesting contributor, but there were no dollar amounts attached and I let it go.  Following the reading of contributions, the current chair of the TTRC, Mr. CT Alexander stepped up to read a statement from his organization which qualified their contribution, stating it was $5K in matching funds.  

I think we can all agree that I am about as non-partisan as they come, and I actually am a bit of a Pollyanna when it comes to how our leaders should govern our community.  I believe that government  should be for all the people and not based on which party you may belong.  So, here we go in to the new year with (1) a complete Republican Board of Supervisors; (2) our current Board of Supervisor Chair (who is a member of the Republican Party) deciding to run for State House 157; and (3) the local Republican Party donates $5K to the township budget. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that organizations (Republican Party Committee or otherwise) want to contribute directly to the fire companies, I am just questioning what this says about our local government taking political contributions for the budget?  Oh, I’m sure that this TTRC contribution is legal . . . so why does this offer somehow just not seem right?  Why do I feel a real uneasiness about the message (political party control?) that this may be sending to the community?  I would welcome comments – if fact, I’d be relieved if I could discover that this kind of political party contribution made directly to local government is routinely done in other municipalities.  I’m looking for some thoughts on the subject . . .

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.