Friday, March 23, 2012

Volunteer Fire Co. Refuses Records Request From Boro Councilman

Earlier this week, I told you that Bethlehem Township's Volunteer Fire Company is willing to open their financial records to anyone. But that's is stark contrast to another volunteer volunteer fire company in Bangor. It's refusing to comply with a request from Borough Council member Dave Houser, even though the borough helps fund it.

In a letter to Pennsylvania's Open Records office, Fire Co. President Bill Schrack makes some incredible arguments:

This letter is in response to the above mentioned docket originated by Mr. David Houser's request for information from our fire company. As the newly appointed president of this organization I have been tasked with handling this matter. There are several reasons why our organization chose not to disclose the requested infromation to Mr. Houser which resulted in the current appeal and they are listed below.

1- We are a non-profit volunteer organization whose sole purpose is to provide fire protection to our community along with two other fire companies comprising our department for greater than 100 years. We feel, with the definitions provided under the Right To Know Law (RTKL) section 102, that we are not considered an agency required to provide such information to the general public.

2- Being that we are a volunteer organization the time frame imposed by a legal formal request such as presented created an undue hardship on the members of our organization. We do not have the personnel or resources available at times to handle these types of requests, nor was there an offer of a reasonable time frame to process this request. As stated earlier, our sole purpose is to provide fire protection to our community.

3- Noting again that we are a volunteer organization with limited available manhours and funds, there was also no offer of any reimbursement of costs associated with processing this request by Mr. Houser.

4- We also strongly believe that there is a conflict of interest in Mr. Houser's request, as we believe he is requesting this information as a Borough Council member and not as a general citizen. We believe that the information requested would be detrimental to our survivability as an organization.

5- Lastly, the information that Mr. Houser requested does not exist in the forms that he is requesting. We have seperate logs for the financial secretary and the treasurer. No official fiscal year reports are generated. Monthly reports are made, vouchers drawn, and the results are spread among the minutes recorded by the secretary. Also there has never been an audit performed by an "independent" agency as there has been no need for such. Once yearly, a committee is formed of current members by the President to perform this task ensuring the books are in order.

With the aforementioned reasons we request that this docket be closed in favor of Second Ward Fire Company. If this matter is not closed we request ample time to seek legal council of our own in review of this case. I am sorry for the delay in this response, but as I stated we are a volunteer organization and are not always readily available for coorespondance via mail. I had been fortunate to receive this letter within the time frame alloted a response. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail for a faster response for any further information that I may provide to assist in your decision in this matter.

93 comments:

zoid said...

Stonewalling is what I see, what do they have to hide, obviously a lot! I am fully supportive of volunteer fire companies, most municipalities cannot do without them. but if taxpayer dollars are being used in some fashion to support them they need to be accountable and they obviously do not want to. Who better than a boro councilman to ask for this information since he authorizes funding every year at budget time. Something smells here

Local said...

I agree whole-heartedly with the first comment. If they had nothing to hide, they'd turn the records over without making a stink.

Do you think he needs to mention the fact that they're volunteers any more? "We're volunteers" is not a valid excuse for ANYTHING. Volunteer firemen and EMTs love to run around talking about how they're "just as good as the professionals," but when it comes time for them to be held to the same standards, the first thing they do is pull out the "volunteer" card and wave it around.

Anonymous said...

If I were one of these volunteers, I'd throw up my hands and walk away. Ingrates.

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's detrimental, alright. Wow.

Anonymous said...

To zoid and local...if you would have read the letter fully you would have noted that this is a dispute over a LEGAL DEFINITION of who is required to show information. And if you honestly feel that this is okay because "taspayer dollars are being used in some fashion", let me see all of your family's finacial records who have ever received social security, disability, or medicare.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how they can claim that no annual financial report is created - they file a 990 with the IRS every year, what do they base it on, if not an annual financial report?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, his request can't be denied for being a jerk. He is the wrong person to be making this request. Hope he doesn't get the info because even if he does and finds nothing, he'll try and make something out of it.

Dave Houser said...

Thanks Bernie. I stand on solid legal ground and I will win this fight for information in the name of the tax payers of this boro. Thing is..when the penalty phase hits them..and it will hurt..will they bring the bill to the boro like they do for everything else..Electric,fuel oil,telephone,another truck..the list is never ending. What are they hiding?

Anonymous said...

Most volunteer fire companies are like little kingdoms with big budgets. Father to son sort of deals. They provide a great service but when it comes to the crash coming in from various sources there never has been any real accountability.
Almost like a family run business.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1:58, Spoken like a true anonymous coward.

Anonymous said...

The elephant in the room is two-fold.
1. The borough is served by 3 companies. This is from the old days with horse drawn wagons.

There are some (on boro council) who would like to eliminate 1 of the 3 depts.

2. Anyone involved with a group or team (such as volunteer FD or EMTs) become loyal to their group. Once a group perceives a move to eliminate them, they will circle the wagons. They can see through this attempt to reduce the dept to 2 companies.

Final thought: Bangor has the largest volunteer Dept in the county. They have many more dedicated firemen than most highly funded towns. They are held in high regard by all other companies as a model.

If the council and mayor are successful in closing one company, you will see a third of the firemen resign, and the rest will be very wary of their own future. In the long run, the boro will end up with one TAXPAYER FUNDED fire dept, with paid professional fighters. This will NOT increase thier fire-fighting abilities, and will probably hurt it.

As that what you want Mr Houser?

A real Slater

Dave Houser said...

Another coward. Why not sign your name? What are you afraid of? Idle threats will get you nowhere in this fight. Soon we will find out who really wants to be a firefighter and who wants to play political games in the tiny boro of Bangor. Come out from behind the curtain or is it your mothers skirt?

RS said...

The second class township code requires an audit from the fire company tracking all funds supplied by the township. If this is not supplied, the township is REQUIRED to cut off funding.
If the fire company is requesting money, the township has leverage besides the RTKL.

Dave Houser said...

A precedent has already been set as one fire company in the boro has recently come forward with their financials and is cooperating with the council and manager on budgeting matters. If they can do this..why can't the other two comply? What's going on behind door number 1 and 2? You can only run away for so long but you can't hide forever. Come out in the swunlight..the weather is fine.

Dave Houser said...

FC's that don't take care of their finances put the boro at risk liability wise and in other ways directly affecting taxes. The boro has no idea what these FC's are doing. It is all hidden from sight. There are liquor licenses involved here..liquor liability..catering licenses..Are they filing with the IRS? Nobody knows but them and they ain't talking to anybody outside the secret circle. This baby has been kicked down the road for decades on end for fear of who knows what. Enough is enough. I don't need to justify my request..by law..the burden of proof is on them.. to prove that I don't have the right to know what their up to at the tax payers expense.

Dave Houser said...

If any person knows the Right To Know Law..it's Bernie. He has been a tremendous resource in my quest of open government and transparency on behalf of the taxpayers of Bangor who I happen to represent. I took this task upon myself because if not me..then who would have the nerve to pursue this issue? Thank goodness a true firefighter lives next door to me and he has assured me that he won't let anything happen to me or my family on his watch.

Charles Finch said...

the volunteers seem to be acting like union boys. afraid of the sun light. if u have nothing to hide show your records.

Light my fire said...

Did they purposely set the fire behind them so they could pose for the picture?

Can you spell A R S O N I S T?

Do these people get annual psych evals?

William Schrack said...

William Schrack says:

Lets clear the air here. First and foremost I am merely a representative of my fire company. The letter is a legal response to the state in an official open case presented to the state by you Mr. Houser and is NOT solely my position on this matter, but the collective decision of the body. As a volunteer firefighter I could personnally care less if you came and saw this information, for if you did you would see that we at Second Ward do not have the gross amounts of money that you believe us to have and would realize that the miniscule amounts of money that the borough alots the 3 departments in their funding does not compare to the needs of the fire service. You are already well aware of where our money goes as you pay our building/truck upkeep. Our equipment comes from state and federal grant monies (reports easily accessible from those agencies). The rest is either raised through our functions (carnivals/coin tosses/recycling) and donations. There is no large sum of hidden monies elsewhere. As a citizen of the Boro I pray you realize the value of a volunteer service to the financial well being of our town. Without the volunteers we as taxpayers are responsible to pay for this service which will easily be 20 times more than the current budget allows. As a homeowner I also pray that you reconsider your attitude towards our fire company because I do not want my homeowners insurance increased because we have a greater response time for fire suppressioin from outside agencies. In closing Mr. Houser I am not a coward and wish an OPEN dialog with you at any public meeting where you can express your TRUE desires for this information and where I can educate you on the importance of our volunteer firefighting organization at Second Ward.

Dave Houser said...

Bangor Boro council has been asking all three fire companies for their seperate financial statements for several years now and the response has been a unanimous FU! Want to see the nasty letters that have been sent to the boro on your letterhead? I have them all. At least you have the guts to identify yourself which is more than I can say for the majority of the posters here. The PA Office of Open Records will decide this issue unless your ready to cooperate with the boro and show us where the taxpayers money is and where it goes..all of it. Nothing personal..only business. You have had every chance to do this the sane way and yet you choose to continue to hide from the public. The balls in your court.

Dave Houser said...

Your email letter to OOR and myself became a public matter when you also copied it to another person. I probably would have sat on this but you wanted to share that statement with someone else so I shared it with Bernie and now here we are..out in the open in the court of public opinion.

Dave Houser said...

At least educate yourself with the RTKL requirements. The burden of proof is on YOU..not me. I don't have to tell you why I want it..that's the law! You have to prove I'm not entitled to what I have requested. You are a pseudo gov't agency..like it or not. Sorry somebody told you another story but I got this one down cold. I would not travel this path without a legal road map. Look it up. Your fire truck was bought by the people of Bangor with their tax money. The tax payers pay your bills and the building is yours..not the towns. You own it and we pay to keep you open. The town had to take a loan to buy that truck and I know cause I voted against billing the tax payers for a vehicle we didn't need but you wanted.

Dave said...

Bangor didn't qualify for another truck..PEMA told us we have too many fire vehicles for the size of the town and they refused to grant us the monies so the tax payers were forced into a loan deal with the Relief Assoc. who sits on their own pile of tax payer money they get for free from the State. That's how you got that shiny truck of yours. And you refuse to work with us when we ask you to?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Schrack, I suggest you do yourself and your fire company a favor. Take a look at the state web page set up for the Open Records Office.

In its FAQ you will see that volunteer fire companies and their records are subject to the right to know.

Also, Mr. Houser's motives are irrelevant under the law. Why he wants that information, or whether you think he has a conflict, does not matter.

Dave said...

All I've heard and seen and experienced since being on Bangor council from our Fire Companies is..Pay our bills and don't ask or expect anything of us except to answer the fire alarms. Zero cooperation has been the norm except when they wanted something and needed more money. Give us cash and keep quiet. Enough. I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Houser by you turning to Bernie
with your story doesn't say much about you. Are you aware of his back round ?
Every one of you are complaining about VOLUNTEER FIREMEN & EMT'S how many of you are willing to get up any time durning the night when the tones go off to fight a fire and maybe save alife in that fire
or get in that ambulance and rush to the aide of a sick person or a accident victim. Many times they sit down to have dinner with their family and the tones go off and away they go with no hesitation.
And you people don't realize everytime they go out on a call they use their own vehicle to get to the firehouse that means their own $ goes into the gas tank.
They do all this for your safty and well being, and what thank's do they get.
This explaination does not excuse
them from any thing, just don't run them down. Mr. Houser If you want to know what goes on at their station why don't you join ? Maybe you too Bernie and do some good for a change.
my name is not included but Bernie you know me......

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your name is not included bc you are an anonymous coward. I have linked to the state website. The RTKL applies. It's certainly true that there are many selfless volunteers, but there are also little weasels who set fires and steal money ... and post snarky anonymous comments on blogs.

Dave said...

Please stop with the sob story. This is a request for financial information. You want to make it personal..it's business. My motives are none of your concern. The law says they got to open the books. Just the facts..please. Seperating the wheat from the chafe is a good bible analogy here. Winnowing..the threshing floor..the consuming fire. Some are due honor..others not so much.

dantheman said...

Hey Dave, since your so worried about public knowledge why don't you disclose how much the borough budget is for fire service, or better yet how much the borough has spent on safety equipment in the last five years for fire fighting personal protective equipment. How about it Dave? You know what is spent on an 80 man, 3 company department so be a man and release it. Why don't you just come out and say you think we should stand in the street and beg for money to pay the electric and heat?
-Dan Lucas, proud fire fighter Bangor

Dave said...

Run for council Dan..and then you can ask the questions. I represent ALL the people of Bangor..I was duly elected to be their eyes and ears and their watch dog and the FC's will cooperate.. as I take my responsibilities very seriously.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Houser, I am confused on what exactly is being asked for. Was the request for the fire companies to give the financial information on what the Borough gives to them or their own personal funds they raise through coin tosses and grants?

Beth said...

To local - Volunteers have to go through training the same as paid professionals so yes they have some bragging rights..its not easy to put in a full days work, come home and be tired and then get called out on a call..but they do it and yes they do it proudly, the same as EMT's. I know my young son has gone through this training and he and the others put their lives on the line each and every time they are called. These people do this because they want to help there community and their neighbors, nothing sneaky or under handed is going on..
Mr. Houser - if the liquor license and catering business is what is bothering you that is causing you to question things as you stated..Second Ward doesn't have those things...they have a carnival, and a coin toss and they throw a banquet for their members once a year..maybe instead of jumping the gun and throwing around accusations and such maybe you and the fire department ALL of them should have sat down and discussed this matter face to face rather then bring it out in an open forum such as this without finding out the third person cc was the secretary to keep a copy for their records not someone who is a third or fourth party to this..in all fairness they have asked you about your reasons for wanting the information..meet them half way..its called a compromise talk to each other like adults and tell them your personal reasoning and then let them tell you there's. It's called conflict resolution..maybe then a viable and workable solution can be achieved.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Beth, It doesn't matter what is bothering Dave. He is entitled to your financials. Believe it or not, so am I. Read the frickin' law already. And your response is part of the public record in this matter, too, not some private email. Judging from some of the comments I've read, I'm glad I posted it. You folks really need to check out the link I posted and start following the law. When you drag your feet on a RTK request, all kinds of alarms go off.

BNS said...

Light my fire - how do you know that the picture of the ARSONISTS isn't a stock photo taken of PAID firefighters? and to the Bernie and Dave you throw coward around a lot calling people names..in fact bullying, you claim you will delete personal attacks but yet you both are doing a lot of attacking how is provoking arguments and name calling going to solve anything..it doesn't make a lot of sense..

Dave said...

The FC's themselves and their chosen leaders over the decades have created this adversarial culture year upon year and now it is ingrained in their minds that they are above the fray and answer to no one especially town council. It's called arrogance and entitlement. There is currently no room for compromise and legal recourse is sought to rectify the wrong. The law will prevail. No threat will deter me from this course of action. There are good people in the FC's and they will be encouraged to follow their chosen community role in cooperation with the boro..a team effort that we can all be proud of. You want to call that an attack? Your entitled to your opinion..I'll stick to the facts.

Dave said...

This is just the opening act..scene one. How will the story pan out? It is a work in progress and the ending not written yet. The status quo can't remain..it is a relic of the past and no longer viable in 2012. The current dysfuntional model will be discarded and a new model fashioned. It will take vision and courage..Change is the only true constant. Again..it's not personal..it's business.

Local said...

@Beth- I have been through the training that the volunteers go through. I have also witnessed first hand the training that the local professionals go through. Let me assure you that they're nowhere near the same.

Bottom line is, if you want to volunteer, remember that you're doing it VOLUNTARILY. Nobody is forcing you, but should you choose to do it, don't expect everyone to write you a free pass for everything. "They're just volunteers, doing the best they can." What a crock. If you want a hobby with less responsibility, try model trains. If you want the respect given to the real professionals, try exercising a little professionalism. To publicly spite the municipality you serve is not the best way to go about that.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
The President of this Fire Dept. is correct. The only records that have to be disclosed
relates to the funds the Borough provides to the Deptr. and how this was spent. Further, The Borough by State Law must pay for Workers Comp. and Fire Hydrant rental etc.

Anonymous said...

dantheman asked about the Borough's budgets, Dave responded with this:

"Run for council Dan..and then you can ask the questions."

Wow, doesn't this reek of fascist elitism?

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Don't know this Councilman,
does he Volunteer for a Fire Dept.

My guess is he doesn't!!!

Anonymous said...

If the volunteer fire company files a form 990 (non profit tax returns), these tax returns are required to be made open to the public for inspection. This is a key component of the IRS mandate. In most cases, this is done by posting it on the company's website or allowing whoever requests it a copy (at the requestor's cost)

The tax return filed should mirror the company's own internal financial records. If it doesnt,then there could be an IRS issue.

This is much different than "opening the books" for inspection. Unless it is mandated by whatever county/governmental etc. funding sources received, the Company is under no obligation to open their books to any 3rd party entity.

In fact, in this day and age of arm chair quarterbacks who have very little financial knowledge to begin with and are quick to rush to judgement on things they do not understand, it would be unwise for the company to open themselves up if they did not have to.

Anonymous said...

If the volunteer fire company files a form 990 (non profit tax returns), these tax returns are required to be made open to the public for inspection. This is a key component of the IRS mandate.

The tax return filed should mirror the company's own internal financial records. If it doesnt,then there could be an IRS issue.

This is much different than "opening the books" for inspection. Unless it is mandated by whatever county/governmental etc. funding sources received, the Company is under no obligation to open their books to any 3rd party entity.

In fact, in this day and age of arm chair quarterbacks who have very little financial knowledge to begin with and are quick to rush to judgement, it would be unwise for the company to open themselves up if they did not have too

Bystander said...

All the knowledge I know of this ordeal has come from this forum, and this is how I see it.
If the Borough is requesting the fire companies to disclose the financial information on what they do with borough funds, then by all means the companies should come forth with it. It is the borough's money after all and they have every right to know what is being done with it. However, if the request is for the companies to give the information on all of their money, the funds they raise through events such as the aforementioned carnival and coin tosses, it does not seem so just. Why would the borough need that information? The money they raise is not the tax dollars of the people. It is money they worked hard to get.
From the companies standpoint, it probably is a little discerning that the borough will not give the reason why they want what they are requesting which is why they might be hesitant to give in to the request. From the borough's standpoint, it is frustrating to not get what you requested, considering you are the authority. The companies may be more inclined to answer the borough's request with a more desired response if they knew what they wanted the information for. I would suggest that you just tell them and get it over with. You have been asking what are they hiding but continue to hide information yourself.
I mean to offense to you, Mr.Houser, by that statement. I am just suggesting you alter your tactics a bit with the department. They seem stubborn and they sound like they will not back down. A kinder request or even a compromise would probably work best with them.
So clear things up. Which is it? Information on the borough money or information on the companies' entire finances?
Also, is the borough's budget sheet online anywhere? If people could look at it and saw where the funding is it could help them understand where the money is going and might prevent uneducated outbursts of anger and personal attacks.

Bernie O'Hare said...

There is a Form 990 on file for 2010, but that raises more questions than it answers.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Unless it is mandated by whatever county/governmental etc. funding sources received, the Company is under no obligation to open their books to any 3rd party entity."

I've posted a link to the FAQ in Pa's RTKL. It is required to open its books.

Bernie O'Hare said...

BNS, or should I say BS?

I've made no personal attacks except at those who take cowardly shots behind a veil of anonymity ... like you. You and other anons deserve it bc it is cowardly.

Bystander said...

Thank you for the link, Bernie. But is there a borough budget available? One that shows where the borough distributes the money it receives from the taxpayers and such. That way we see the percentages of where the money goes, such as the fire department, police, and road maintenance.

Dave Houser said...

Bangor boro budgets are avail. from the boro on request. The boro has it's own RTK officer. Stop by during bus. hours at 197 Pa. Ave. and they will provide one. Easy peasy. If you call ahead..it will be there when you arrive. 610 588 2216. Tell them I sent you.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

The Councilman who wants this information obviously has poor knowledge of a Volunteer organization that was chartered.
If the Dept. disbanded, the equipment,trucks and building, if they belong to the Dept. would be sold and the proceeds distributed to the present members.

dantheman said...

Mr Houser seems not to want to answer that the only monies he is interested in is money raised by the members or donated by citizens.

Dave said...

You can assume anything you want to Dan. Read the law..I don't have to justify the request to you or anyone else on this earth. I'm not making it up. Do a little light reading and educate yourself before you come here and make a fool of yourself again.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dan, Why is this such a big deal? The financial records of all volunteer fire companies are subject to RTK, as well as nearly every nonprofit. This company receives some public funding from the very Council on which Dave sits. It seems to me he's doing his job.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious to me that mr. ohare is the only friend you have mr. houser. GO BFD!!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

It does not matter who Dave's friends are. A RTK request is not a popularity contest. What matters is who is right. Dave is right. i have provided a link to the state site, showing he is right. That's what matters.

Anonymous said...

if mr houser is done talking about hiding behind mommy's skirt and calling people cowards and other childish names then he should quit being a coward himself and spit out as to why he wants all this financial info because it seems to me theres more to it than what he wants. As far as light my fires arson comment...that is not BFD so get your facts straight

Anonymous said...

and how the HELL does he know what a "real fireman" is anyway!!!!

Anonymous said...

just a question bernie. i know you're from nazareth so does your town receive financials from your local fire dept each year?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe so. I'm pretty sure there's a very good relationship between Nazareth firefighters and boro council. They're all trying to help people, in the final analysis. I do not see the sensitivity I've seen here from Bangor.

Anonymous said...

Personally bernie the "sensitivity" seems like it's very unnecessary. Still can't see what his problem is. Why must he keep picking on an organization that has been in existance for over 100 years?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't know ow many times I have to say this, but the RTK law is pretty clear. You lose. When you keep arguing against disclosure when the law is clear, I believe you are the ones being sensitive. The public has every right to see how its money is handled. It has every right to know your internal policies or any actions you take or don't take that can impact the public safety. This is not a game.

Anonymous said...

I don't care anymore about the RTK bull anymore. He has an obvious issue with the fire dept. This goof has nothing better to do than to cut down an organization that that trains every week for 52 weeks per year to do the things he'll never have the balls to do. What's next...will he go to church on Sunday and stop the congregation from putting money in the offering? Film at 11.....

Bernie O'Hare said...

The RTK is NOT bull, and the personal animosity (anonymous, of course) is shocking. Hey, I know several volunteer firefighters who were fire bugs. So I would not come down all holier than thou.

Anonymous said...

O'Hare now hates volunteer fireman. does your wrath have no bounds?

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
If this is in the RTK Law, then some State Representative or Senator placed this in the law and never told the Public. "I'm SHOCKED" or they didn't read the law before voting.
Volunteer Fire Depts were CHARTERED
They are Private/Quasi-Government organizations.

Anonymous said...

To the Fire Department Members.

Challenge the RTK Law and you will WIN .
I'm sure a community Lawyer would assist in your effort.
You are a private organization and were Chartered.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The application of RTK to volunteer fire companies and other nonprofits who benefit from public grants is well know. Courts have said the companies provide a governmental function that means they are a "local agency" where the right to know law is concerned. In Bensalem, in 2011, a volunteer fire company that repeatedy refused RTK requests was suspended.

Unlike the NIZ, which was buried in a state budget and passed in the early hours of the morning with virtually no knowledge or notice, Pa's RTKL was subject to extensive discussion that actually stretched over years. So your analogy to the NIZ is absurd.

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:09, Nobody, no even volunteer fire companies, are above the law. And they do need to be reminded that they are not all saints when they start going on about the fact that they volunteer. I admire and respect anyone who does what they do. But they still must follow the law.

Anonymous said...

Whether he is doing this on his own or just came out of a huddle with boro council, this man needs to be stopped. The last thing Bangor needs is a sneaky councilman(or a sneaky council). The citizens of Bangor love their fire dept and feel very secure and blessed knowing that there are almost 100 men and women protecting them. Personally I think Mr. Houser will be looked at worse than he already is when the citizens find out he is being a complete jerk about all of this and would be surprised to find him on another term as councilman in Bangor.

Bernie O'Hare said...

While it would be no surprise to see a member of Council ejected for doing his job, that is all Houser is doing.

Pa. courts have long held that volunteer fire companies are governmental entities, and have even allowed them to claim immunity under some laws for that reason.

Perhaps you are worried about your donors' identity. Those can be excepted out. Even audit work papers can be excepted. But anything that qualifies as a "public record" must be produced.

I understand you are concerned that you could be burdened by bullshit requests, and would urge you to make that argument if it concerns you. In a Tioga County case, where someone actually was concerned that a township was providing too much support to a local volunteer fire company, that's exactly the kind of argument that was used. But the Office of Open Records still insists that volunteer fire company records are subject to the right to know. Outside of Tioga County, that's the law.

Anonymous said...

To the Vounteer Fire Department under attack by an out of control Council member.
I would suggest that you contact Rep. Justin Simmons for assistance.
Rep. Simmons ran for office on a platform to protect citizens from this type of nonsense. He further wants to get Government out of your everyday life. I'm sure he can help.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your comment makes no sense. RTK is aimed at governmental entities and those which perform governmental functions. It is designed to make them accountable to the public, and the argument could be made tat it does help keep government out of your life.

Anonymous said...

The Fire Department is a Volunteer/Chartered Organization and is Independent of the Borough.
By State Law, the Borough Government must pay for only several items, Hydrants,workers Comp,and insurance on vehicles titled in the Borough's name.
Only funds given to the Dept. can be audited by the Borough. All other funds are the Depts.

Anonymous said...

Chief were behind you and your men at the Department.

This Councilman needs to be retired
after the next election. He also needs censored by other councilman.

eckville press said...

Banquet Exp. $4912.00

Firehouse Refreshments $2398.00

Notten to see here, move on my friend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sticking up for our department (this is what they call brotherhood houser). As acitizen of the boro, I think it's crucial in times like this that all fire companies stick together, especially to oust a "HATER" like houser!! As far as boro council getting rid of houser, they have a "hooray for us and up yours attitude". Everything happens behind closed doors and when an outsider walks through the door they go their seperate ways. Trust me.. they won't say anything to your face unless they gang up on you. By the way, where is the new liaison in all of this?

Anonymous said...

My Friend,
Privately raised funds spent on the membership who VOLUNTEER their time to this organization.
Please read the previous comments,and go to any Fire Department in the area and read the CHARTER.
Further, If you check, you'll find other dept's that have a banquet.

Anonymous said...

eckville...good one but dont forget $3.00 on a box of matckes cuz according to bernie we're all a bunch of pyros

eckville press said...

Net profit from fundraising $3310.00.

Amount spent for the personal benefit of the volunteers $8360.00.

Notten to see here, move on my friend.

Anonymous said...

My Friend,

Your complaining about
$8,400.00 in expenses for a Fire Dept. that provides 24 Hour/365 Day Coverage.

DO THE MATH, This is reasonable.

Anonymous said...

The CHIEF is correct and will win this fight.
The RTK Law is in place for GOVERNMENT RECORDS. And this is only if they wish to comply and/or Court order.

Anonymous said...

Everyone should further remember that buying a Sandwich, Pizza, Dinner or raffle ticket does not equate to tax money. These are private funds earned by a non-profit.
Also making a donation to a local Fire Dept. is not a Tax and is deductible on your income tax.

Anonymous said...

First off, a disclaimer as what I know of things are from about 25 years ago!

Now, unless the Borough is paying 100% of "ALL" firetruck purchases and for "ALL" personal protective equipment, I say to the fire company turn over anything that pertains to the monies that the borough is giving you and "only" that data.

Again this is 25 yr. old knowledge. At that time I too ran with a volunteer fire company ,name withheld, we stumbled upon this tidbit. For all insurance policies, homeowners/ rentals, written in our borough the borough got a percentage from the insurers to pay for fire protection. So, while "technically tax payers money" it was NOT generated by taxation, it was from the insurers to the borough's to help maintain adequate fire protection and it was/ used to be a yearly allocation!

At that time it barely made a dent in our overhead! I don't know if this still is the case or not.

The rest of our operating expenses were paid for by blanket tosses, boot collections, carnivals, social hall activities and raffles. Let me tell you that we didn't get rich quick.

Sometimes, even though we wanted/ needed to replace one of our dinosaur trucks we had to use duct tape, bailing wire, bubble gum and spit to keep trucks on the road until we could scrape together enough money to apply for a loan for a new truck and than try to figure out how to pay for it!

With truck costs of upwards of 1/2 to 1 million dollar price tag and protective equipment costs of $500 to $1000 or more per man, it's a wonder how "volunteer" fire companies stay afloat now of days.

I do not know what started all of this and I don't know who owns what and or how much the Borough contributed or paid towards the trucks and equipment. Some, half or all??

But the bottom line is "does the borough think it will be cheaper to have a full time, paid fire company?"

You would need at least a 2, 12 hr. a day, shift that worked 7 days a week all year long to have the same coverage as now enjoyed by the borough through the volunteers.

Not to mention that you would have to have a retirement plan, they would probably become a union therefore a medical and dental plan, overtime, sick time, vacation time, etc, etc.

I tried to read and reread the RTKL on the Penna. website and left somewhat confused. In one place it stated that yes, in fact, volunteer fire companies fall under the RTKL and must produce records "BUT" there were some exceptions. I don't know if the company in question fall under the exceptions or not.

You can tell it was written by a team of lawyers as it IS NOT clear cut, to much legalese. You know, well if it falls on the second Tuesday of the first week or there is a "blue moon" then it doesn't apply. HUH????

Anonymous said...

Well said, this is what I explained
previously.
In many cases across the State, the Fire Dept. was there before the Borough existed as a Government.
To the previous comment, I would think you are correct in your estimate of what the Borough contributes to the Dept.
This is "Much Ado About Nothing"

Anonymous said...

I would welcome the open book policy. That way the good and honest people of Bangor can see that the monies that are collected in taxes in the name of the fire department, never actually reach the fire department.The tax payers are charged 1 mil (thats tax talk for 1%)and the monies alloted the department are way less. So where did all that money go? The same goes for that fee that is collected called the Emergency Services fee, yeah the department doesnt see a dime of that either. For those who do not know, the Borough of Bangor is served faithfuly by 3 seperate companies that compose the Bangor Fire Department. In a time when volunteerism is at an all time low, the borough elected representatives and the individual paid to be the spokesperson are hell bent on isolating and alienating the one good thing in the area. The department is 70 strong. The Borough pays the utilities for the three stations as well as the general insurance policy for the vehicles and members. Now the borough has to have this very same insurance policy for the police depart, and the street department so no excuses about that being an expense. In comparasion to what a paid department would cost, the borough is getting a deal and a half. But since the elected few have been mismanaging the borough funds for so long, they are now broke and picking on the one group that really cant fight back. What are they going to do? strike? I dont think so.
The street department has run amok for so long that its not even funny anymore. But the Fire Department is shown as the evil children who dont want to show their coloring books.
Seriously, get over yourself people. Yes, you have a right to know about tax funded contributions to the companies. You are not entitled to any more, but since we have already established that the department is not tax funded, you have no argument. What is your vested interest in this matter? If there is an allogation of misuse of monies, make such a allogation and see if it sticks. By the way, if the intent of the borough was honorable....pause for laughter to die down.....then why is the Mayor (whom is only in charge of the police department by Bangor charter) running around trying to make deals with surrounding Fire departments to come to put out Bangor fires when they condense the department. Boy what a shock he got when the other departments told him that the response comes with a fee. Hey sport, mutial aid dont work "cause you asked them too". It has to be mutual...both sides want something out of the deal.
I have one last question Mr Councilman, Since you have chosen to identify yourself as such here, that opens the door to suggest that you are conducting this mission as a duly elected official of the Borough. Is the Borough solicitor aware of your actions and how you have portraited yourself? Dont bother to answer becasue by this time tomorrow he will be.
You have stated several times in these posts that you have nothing to hide but when asked why you want the information, you hide behind the rheteric that its the law and you dont have to tell. Well sir, and i use that erm loosely, you dont want to tell, they shouldnt have to show. Its as easy as that. See what the good readers here dont know is that when you were rejected as a borough official, you then decided that you would not be scorned and started this war as a "private tax paying citizen".
Oh and about the comment stating that PEMA says there are too many fire trucks in the area, Please post that. I would love to see that report. There is no such justification. No monies come from PEMA in relation to fire suppresion. There are Federal Monies that come from the Department of Homeland Security and they do not have a truck to square mile conversion chart. The state monies come from the Office of the State Fire Commisioner and they too do not have a limit on trucks so please, please before you make a statement like this, be sure to read the law....oh wait, havent you been quoting that the whole time, guess its do as I say and not as I do.

Anonymous said...

SHOW ME YOUR PAPERS!!!

I MEAN BOOKS!!!

Anonymous said...

More Government intrusion into your Life!!!

eckville press said...

"So, while "technically tax payers money" it was NOT generated by taxation, it was from the insurers to the borough's to help maintain adequate fire protection and it was/ used to be a yearly allocation"

Anon 10:16 PM

We will respectfully disagree.

The Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Distribution Law was
passed as part of Act 205 of 1984, the Municipal Pension
Plan Funding Standard and Recovery Act (commonly
referred to as "Act 205," 53 P.S. 895.101 et. seq.).
Specifically, Chapter 7 of Act 205 sets forth the provisions
of the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Distribution Law (53 P.S.
895.701-895.706). The source of the monies is a 2 percent
tax on foreign fire insurance premiums. (The term “foreign
fire insurance” means fire insurance written by an insurance
company which is not incorporated in the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania.)

Since volunteer firefighters’ relief associations receive
public tax monies, the association officers have a
responsibility to the public to conduct the association’s
financial affairs in a businesslike manner, keeping financial
records which provide a documented audit trail and can
easily verify the propriety of all association transactions.
Relief association officials are also responsible for
ensuring that their association operates in accordance with
Act 84 of 1968, (the "Volunteer Firefighters' Relief
Association Act" 53 P.S. 8501 et. seq.), which governs the
operation of volunteer firefighters’ relief associations
(VFRA).

Audit experience indicates that many relief associations fail to maintain records which sufficiently
detail the financial transactions of the relief association.
These records are deficient in that they do not fully
describe the source and purpose of the financial transactions, and supporting documentation required to
verify these transactions is often unavailable. As a result,
the Auditor General has established minimum record-keeping
requirements which include a chart of accounts, journals,
ledgers, financial statements, investment roster, equipment
inventory, and membership roster. All records should be
presented in an orderly, businesslike manner.

Respectfully,
Eckville Press

Anonymous said...

Heck if the Council or anyone for instance wants the Bangor Firemans' Relief Assoc records you can get them on-line at the Office of the Auditor General website. Just look up Bangor Fire Department. Everyone knows they are there. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

The relief asso. funds are audited by the State Auditor General.

Any Misuse of funds is reported to the District Attorneys office for prosecution.

If this hasn't occurred, then all is fine.

Anonymous said...

What I meant in my earlier post was the monies from the insurers was not a local, local tax.

Now my wife pays the premium so I don't know if there is a line for the 2%.

I did some more digging and went and reviewed some of the PA. Auditor Generals Audits and "ALL" they are concerned with is that 2% money and how it was spent and record keeping for that money. PERIOD!

Nothing in the audit asks how much money from donations, bingo, or blanket tosses as most if not all are non-profit, charitable organizations.

The following is a paraphrased, semi quote, from the audit of one local fire company.

"Act 84 governs the overall operation of the firefighters' relief association. The relief association's bylaws define the specific operational procedures by which the volunteer firefighters relief association conducts business". End quote.

It goes on to say that since the Relief Assoc. receives "public tax monies" they must conduct themselves in a business like manner and have a responsibility to the public and have records. Ergo able to produce records for this money.

Act 205 sets forth the computation of the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Distribution paid to each applicable municipality for all of the Commonwealth of Pa.

Once computed the municipality MUST allocate the funds to the fire company(ies).

Unless the fire company has been suspended from receiving these funds.

Here is the link:

http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Reports/Fire.html#Northampton

Check it for your own enlightenment!

I don't know how the hornet got into someones BVD's and or how much more tax payers money is being given to the Fire Company but one fact is clear and present.

That being from everything I've been able to ascertain is only the tax payers money from wherever and whatever source is to be accountable to the public.

My concluding thoughts are that "any tax money, money from the State or Borough, should be available for tax payer inspection.

I'm not a Lawyer but any money from other sources should only to be seen by the IRS! Unless the Fire Company wishes to show it.

I went back and did some more research on the PA. RTKL and found a listing of all agencies/ organizations that MUST be available to the public. Charatable orgs./ volunteer fire companies weren't on the MUST show list.

eckville press said...

Anon 12:38 PM

On March 29 the OOR ruled in favor of Mr. Houser. Case #2012 0319.

Relief money is audited by the Auditor General.

The fire co is required to give an itemized list of equipment bought with tax dollars to the borough.
State law.

The open book policy is good governance.

Respectfully,
Eckville Press

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks, Eck, I wonder if Dave knows.

Dave said...

I do now. Have not rec'd offical word yet. There are 2 requests..Rescue FC was the first one I filed and 2ND Ward FC was the second about two weeks later than the first one. Guess the clock is now ticking louder. My concern now is that they will still refuse and when penalty fees hit..they will claim ignorance and try to make the boro pay for their arrogance..one way or another. Thank you bernie for all your help and advise. Might doesn't make right..the law does. I hope this ends this chapter but I am still awaiting the records. Update at 11.