Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. I have even more questions. I guess one thing I’m learning from watching this process is that the law is not black and white. It seems to be mostly gray. By that I mean, so many questions exist surrounding the solicitation of the $23,000, including the involvement of the TTRC.

    Why is it that we do not know if it is legal or not for the fire companies to take money from a political party? Why is that not a Yes or No question?

    Or on another note, if the St Davids golf club is in breach of contract, why aren’t they being sued to comply? Who is supposed to do this enforcement? The township? The township solicitor? Does it need to be kicked up to the State Attorney General’s office? Who protects the residents with enforcement in these instances? Last I heard, SD was 2 years in breach.

    I am just confused by how many lawyers seem to be involved in these local political issues, but we never seem to have definitive legal decisions/information and/or prosecution.

  2. As far as I am concerned… it is irrelevant where the money comes from. This is not a legal or political question. The fire companies accept donations all year round. this is no different. The only difference is that in order to avoid political suicide, the supervisors took it upon themselves to make a political show out of it.
    The Fire Companies say that they are short on fund raising (just like all non-profits) so good for them, they got some fund raising help.
    People were sucked into the illusion that this donation is anything more then a donation.

    The real issue, and the only one that should be focused on is that there was cuts to the fire company by the township.
    This should be the focus. The supervisors decided to cut the fire company money. I refuse to believe that the ‘donation’ was a solution. Since when does private contribution override appropriate utilization of tax dollars for the benefit of the community as a whole?

    I was impressed with Mr Tildan’s speech the night of the meeting, and have watched it again on TV and am even more impressed. The message was clear that night that our fire companies believe they are under funded. He stated that this was expressed to the townships 4 years ago and this was the first that I have heard of it. I remember the township hiring a firm to look into this, but have never seen what’s come of it. Shouldn’t this have been out in the open? Did the township pay for it or did the fire companies have to pay for it?

    If our fire companies are under-funded and they have been telling the township that for 4 years and the township has told them they should simply fund raise more, then I am ashamed of my elected officials!

    I EXPECT my tax dollars to be used in a way that would not allow my fire, ems, police to consider themselves under-funded. That is a priority to me and I wonder where is the money going? I used to think it went to those services, but now I see that it does not go to fire and EMS. Why does the police get Millions, and the fire companies get thousands?

    Let’s focus on the real issues. As long as there are no obligations with the money donated, then it is just a donation. Anyone or any organization can chose to donate…it is their money after all. I would rather see these discussions focus on why this happened to begin with! Otherwise, the political illusion was successful!

    thanks and happy new year to all!!!!!!!!

    1. CJ —

      I appreciate your comments. I agree that we should be grateful that there are businesses that want to help our fire companies. The problem is that there are issues surrounding the $23,200 contributions. The total in contributions may be inaccurate as there could be numous duplications from businesses; it is already recognized that Margaret Kuo’s was listed as a contributor and that business is already a donor to the fire departments. It is highly unlikely in today’s economy that local businesses (such as Margaret Kuo’s) are going to contribute twice in the same year to the same fire company. Although it is apparently ‘legal’ for political parties to make donations to fire companies, it is not possible for a fire company to accept a political party donation if the fire company’s charter does not permit the gift from a political party. So in theory it may seem to be OK for an organization to make a donation, it is not always possible for the 501c3 organization to accept the donation (as in Tredyffrin Township Republican Party). Just so we are clear, as of today I have verified that none of the $23,200 has been received by the fire companies. Furthermore, apparently the fire companies have not been given a timeline for the contributions nor is there any understanding of the process for collection. The entire purpose of continuing to bring light to this subject is that (1) the fire companies are underfunded and have repeatedly stated so, (2) the fire companies have not received any of this ‘Holiday Drive’ money to date, (3) even if they get the contribution it does not negate the fact that the township supervisors did not give back their 5% fire department budget cut; (4) Tredyffrin’s budget reduction to the fire companies will remain going forward.

        You say that this is not a legal or political issue but I have to disagree – I think it is both.
      1. >>it is already recognized that Margaret Kuo’s was listed as a contributor and that business is already a donor to the fire departments. It is highly unlikely in today’s economy that local businesses (such as Margaret Kuo’s) are going to contribute twice in the same year to the same fire company.<<

        do you have any information what so ever to back this wild accusation? what is your source?
        you are slapping the faces of those businesses who pledged donations by blindly accusing them of not paying up.

        1. Freddy,
          This is certainly no ‘wild accusation’ as you suggest. Supervisor Kampf read a partial list of contributors to the Fire Department Holiday Drive, which included Margaret Kuo. According to a fire department representative, Margaret Kuo’s has been a yearly supporter all along to the fire department. My point was that unless the complete list is made public and cross-referenced there could be duplications of businesses that have already supported the fire departments. I only suggested that as a small business owner myself (esp. in today’s economy) I make my nonprofit contributions carefully and I personally would not be giving twice to the same organization in the same year. I never accused businesses of not paying up! But merely suggested that they may not give twice.

          If you attended or watched the last Board of Supervisor Meeting, you would recall that this is the exact point that Supervisor DiBuonaventuro made in his remarks in regards to the contribution check.

          1. so how do you know they didn’t make an exception and pledge to donate more money than usual to make up for the loss in funding?
            just because you are too cheap to ‘give twice’ doesn’t mean that everyone else is too.
            those businesses should be applauded, not scrutinized.
            from the second that the donation was announced you have done nothing but complain about it.
            i could just imagine if you were elected to the BOS, no doubt you would be wasting all kinds of time and effort trying to get to the bottom of this horrible scandal in which hard-working businesses stepped up to the plate and pledged to donate extra money to make up for a reduction in contributions from the township.
            why do you assume that the funding will be cut again in 2011? do you have some kind of magic crystal ball that you peer into that tells you how much revenue from transfer taxes will be taking place in the future? or do you assume that the evil, conniving BOS members who are nothing but puppets, being controlled by some evil genius at the TTRC, who’s primary objective is to cut all funding for all services?

          2. I don’t know who this Freddy person is but he certainly is confused on the contribution issue. The fire companies have fought for years for money from Tredyffrin. Sure, we are glad if businesses want to give to us twice but Pattye and JD are right — it’s not happening!

            I do the door-to-door fundraising to businesses and even when times were good, it was hard to get money. And I was going in my fireman’s uniform! Do you think that the likes of Kampf, Olson & Lamina going in to a business are going to get them to donate when a uniformed firefighter can’t? Furthermore, a lot of the businesses that used to give are having to cut back because they don’t have the money. How dare you attack Pattye? At least she’s trying to help the fire companies make sure that they get more than a cardboard check from the BOS! I for one wish she had won — because you’re right about one thing. She would have gotten to the bottom of this ridiculous joke of a board meeting we all witnessed last week!!

  3. For the record, the history of the fire companies going to BOS meetings and asking for funding dates back to the early 1990s (Not 4 years ago.). I know of them also appearing before the TESD School Board prior to 2000 to inform them of their funding woes too.

    Keep up the good discussion.

  4. Perhaps to assess whether the contributions actually materialize, we’ll have to wait until the end of 2010 and look at the record of the 2009 and 2010 contributions by the listed entities? That still leaves open the question of what those parties were planning to contribute in 2010 anyway.

    Without this circus we’d have missed some great holiday entertainment, though. Would have qualified as a pantomime (of my UK youth) if Warren and CT had sung their solos, with the fire companies having a nice group number, etc.

  5. Bottom line the township got credit for ‘saving’ the fire companies and restoring their funding. Will they make good on that promise? If they want to maintain that credit then they can cut checks with the Tredyffrin logo on them to Paoli, Berwyn, and Radnor for the 5% that was cut. If they don’t do this, their claim of restoring their funds is falsehood.

  6. In light of the discussion, I would too recommend that the donations be collected by the township. This would alleviate the concerns of the fire companies needing to figure out who/when/where this money comes from.
    The township should write the checks (from the township) to the fire companies on Jan 1. It’s then up to the supervisors to go after the promised money and not the fire companies responsibility.

    Thus eliminating the political/legal overtone this discussion is about.

    1. CJ —
      Your suggestion is one that I can support. It should not be the responsibility of the fire companies to figure out where the $23,200 came from — the fire companies should not have to chase down the money or determine the distribution among the 3 fire companies.

      If this money did indeed help balance and pass the 2010 township budget, you are right, the township can write a check to each of the fire companies. I’m all for taking the politics out of this ‘problem’. To my knowledge only 3 supervisors (Kampf, Lamina and Olson) are responsible for the Fire Department Holiday Drive, so I would expect that they should be the ones that ‘make good’ on the contribution not the other 4 supervisors who had nothing to do with the arrangement. It has also been suggested to me by a local resident, that if the 3 supervisors can not track down the full amount of promised $23,200 contribution, they should personally make up any differential.

      At the end of the day, we just want to make sure that the fire companies are made ‘whole’. I say it sure would have been alot easier if the Board of Supervisors had simply taken out the fire works line listing and gave back the 5% contribution cut to the fire companies. Why does this have to be so hard?

      1. CJ and Pattye:

        As a practical matter, I don’t see how the contributors could make checks to the Township and still have them be tax-deductible. As I understand the law, the checks have to be made directly to the 501(c)3 entity, the fire companies. The 3 supervisors could, and should, follow up on the pledges and manage the logistics to fulfill the commitment.

        1. If this is truly the case, then that proves that the fire companies were not saved… they were given some extra fund raising help. There was no township support in the terms of “THE TOWNSHIP”

          I will not demean the fund raising efforts. But I will not accept it as a township sponsored funding. Perhaps all businesses and individuals who donate to the fire companies should present large checks at township meetings in the future to make themselves feel better.

          And on a side note… is tax deduction the reason people donate? or is it the concept of giving to a worthy cause that someone would donate? Don’t get me wrong, tax deduction is nice, but will someone not give if they can’t get the write off?

          1. The tax deduction is not THE reason, but it is a reason. If you’re in the 30% tax bracket, and you give $1000, your taxes are reduced by $300., so it really “costs” you $700. Without the tax deduction, one might give less.

            In this case, the solution is simple – the donors simply write the checks to the Fire Companies and they get a tax deduction.

  7. I’d like for Warren, Bob or Paul to respond as to how they will be accounting for these donations. Who are the checks being made out to? What is the split between the companies? How are thank yous (aka receipts for the charitable donations) being sent out? I know you’re reading this. I bet that the lack of planning and foresight of these three will amount to extra work by the volunteers to pick up these pieces. And the sad thing is, at the end of the day there is still no long-term solution in sight. I’m wondering if next November/December Bob and Warren will bring back the firefighters for another song and dance so that they can be entertained during the holidays again.

    Where’s the list of donors? Also, how many of the businesses who contributed do business within Tredyffrin? Question: If a business which does business in Tredyffrin and possibly has a contract with the Township or requires permits, etc. on a regular basis is asked by SITTING SUPERVISORS for donations to the fire company, isn’t this really a forced “fee” or “tax” on these businesses? But we can’t raise taxes, right? It’s the responsibility of the residents and the fire companies to have pasta dinners and turkey raffles. I just hope when my house is on fire the firefighters aren’t serving pancakes to make a couple bucks.

    Let’s get this information out in the open, or should our local government continue its attempt to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. I’m still wondering how that huge check is going to fit in the deposit drawer at the bank.

    – Roger – a disgruntled Tredyffrin Republican (NOT a member of the TTRC)

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