Relief association of shuttered Pa. fire company mismanaged $30K in state funds, auditor says
Days after firefighters and town leaders clashed over the station's closing at a public meeting, a new report detailed the misuse of relief funds
The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Tilbury Volunteer Fire Co. Relief Association mismanaged more than $30,000 in state funding and failed to maintain meeting minutes to document expenditures, according to a new report by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office.
The now-defunct Plymouth Twp. Fire and Rescue Tilbury Station 169 has been in the news ever since Plymouth Twp. supervisors shut it down in August, citing financial concerns.
According to the new report, the state paid the relief association taxpayer funding of $8,957 in 2017 and $8,131 in 2018. The relief association is expected to use that money for its own operating expenses as well as purchasing safeguards for the volunteer firefighters.
But during the two-year period audited, the relief association disbursed four payments totaling $28,500 to the fire company to assist with its general operations, the report says. Subsequent to the audited period, the relief association paid out another $2,000 to the department, according to the report.
“The primary purpose of the disbursements to the affiliated fire company was for the benefit of the fire company, not the relief association; consequently these disbursements are not authorized,” the report says.
In addition, the association’s documentation indicated the payments were loans, yet only one promissory note of $5,000 existed, according to the report.
The fire department also failed to provide bank statements to prove the transferred money actually made it to the department’s bank account, the report says.
The relief association’s account showed two repayments totaling $9,000 in 2017, leaving a balance owed of $21,500.
The report said that in addition to the improper transfers, the relief association failed to maintain adequate meeting minutes.
“The relief association’s minutes did not address all of the financial-related transactions that occurred during the audit period,” the report says. “Additionally, although meeting minutes were recorded for every meeting as required by the relief association’s bylaws, the treasurer was the person recording the meeting minutes in 2018, instead of the secretary as required by the relief association’s bylaws.”
As a result, there is no evidence that relief association business was presented to membership for approval, according to the report.
“As a result of these improper expenditures, relief association funds were not available for investment purposes, or to pay for expenditures authorized (by state law),” the report says. “In addition, because of the lack of adequate internal controls, relief association officials could not be assured that relief association funds were properly protected. Furthermore, the relief association’s future state aid allocations may be withheld until the finding recommendation is complied with.”
The fire department’s finances were a key factor in the township’s decision to decertify it last year, with supervisors citing a roughly half-a-million-dollar U.S. Department of Agriculture loan the department took to upgrade its facility.
Fire Chief Barry Lore II cited the arrival of Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Twp. as decimating the department’s bingo revenue, which generated about $30,000 per year.
While acknowledging the department’s financial hardships, firefighters have heatedly contested the closure, saying the surrounding departments now providing fire protection for the township aren’t able to respond as quickly to emergencies.
Plymouth Twp. budgeted $30,000 this year to pay for fire services from the outside municipalities — Nanticoke, Plymouth Borough, Larksville and Lake Silkworth.
©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)