Fire & Rescue Association aims to regain public trust
Group to begin opening up process this week, meeting with commissioners
Dale Hill, the new president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, talks to a small crowd Thursday night at a meeting with the Citizens for the Protection of Washington County. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer)
As a result, the county told the association to require the exams in an effort to rein in the claims. Before that, up to 230 volunteers were taking the exams each year, an association official has said.
With hundreds more volunteers now required to take the exams, even on an age-based system under which younger volunteers have three years between exams, the association’s costs soared.
During the current budget year for July 2011 through June 30, the $85,000 the association had budgeted for the exams “ran out by the first of January,” Hill said. To cover the cost of exams needed through June, the association is drawing money from its cash and investments accounts, he said.
Offhand, Hill didn’t know the total amount of money in those accounts but he said that by the time the current budget year ends June 30, there’s “going to be very little left over. ...It’s certainly not going to be anything like it was before.”
If the commissioners don’t approve next year’s supplemental funding, the budget will have to be taken back to the association’s members to decide how to adjust the budget, he said.
Even though the legislature hasn’t yet approved the new gaming measure, Hill said he wants to be as open now with the commissioners as the new law would require.
Under it, the commissioners would be given the right to approve the association’s budget.
“We want them to review the budget and if they have problems with it, we’ll have to re-evalutate the budget and then take it back to the commissioners for approval,” Hill said.
He said his understanding of the new legislation is that it wouldn’t give the commissioners power over each budget item.
“It’s not approval where they would go in and move things around, is what my understanding’s going to be of it. It’s not actually approve the budget per se, line item by line item. But we want them to see that the association is being accountable and not doing anything way out of line,” he said.
Passing out checks
Hard economic times as well as a need to pay for the physical exams was part of the association’s debate on whether to turn over about $263,000 of the association’s investments to the companies, Hill said.
“I think that was part of the thinking of some of the companies now, that they’re running into some financial troubles and that this would help them at least for this part of the year,” he said. “But again, taking that money kind of put us into the situation of running short on physical fitness funding and then having to approach the county for financial help.”
The voting was deeply split, with just “two or three” company representatives the difference in giving the majority to those who wanted to withdraw the money and give it to the companies, he said.
The checks have been written, he said, and on Thursday night, at the association’s regular membership meeting, each of the companies will be given a check for about $10,100.
In all, there will be 26 checks — not 27 as has been the number of companies recognized previously, he said. For this distribution, he said, the members decided that Williamsport Volunteer Fire & Emergency Medical Services would be considered as one company, rather than two.
The Williamsport fire and EMS operations, which joined forces a couple of years ago, are still counted separately for the association’s distribution of public gaming funds twice a year. That money, after the association takes a 20 percent cut, is divided equally among all 27 companies.
As the popularity of tip jar gaming soared, the amount given each company rose to a peak just topping $43,800 during the July 2006 through June 2007 budget year. But as the recession has caused people to tighten their belts, the amounts they’ve spent on gaming has waned, dropping each company’s share to just under $28,900 this past year.
This coming year, the share is expected to drop even lower, Hill said.