Saturday, January 26, 2008

Funding Facts of the SFD

Albero has recently gone on another narrow-minded rant concerning the fire dept and has successfully hornswoggled from his phantasm followers a series of comments and questions that he cannot answer. Why you ask? Because as usual his investigative skill is non-existent, rather his focus is only “hits” which in reality mean nothing, and being able to scoop any other media or BLOGer desiring to be fair and un biased.

One issue at hand is the inclusion of a banquet hall and commercial kitchen for the purpose of fund raising in the new fire station/headquarters. First of all the city does not rent out it’s buildings. It is not proper for the city to do so and to compete with other entities in the city that depend on such uses for their existence. There is an argument that other fire department in the county do this to earn money but one must bear in mind these departments and corporation own those buildings. In the City of Salisbury the building is owned by the city, not the corporate fire dept. Another question brought to the table is that of fundraising of any sort. It took a little legwork but the answers to that question go back well before anyone reading this can remember. It seems in time past, and I am referring to the 1930’s and before, the fire department in Salisbury did indeed hold a carnival to raise funds. Please bear in mind the City of Salisbury was much different than it is today with it’s population and merchant base. It seemed that many of the merchants lost revenue during carnival time and this created quite a hardship for their existence. Know also the merchant base in the city was often owned by the same people in the city government at the time or least had family who shared in commerce and government, many of the same people also had firm interest in the fire department. The quandary was simply this—the carnival hurt the merchant base. The merchant base pays taxes. If the merchant base left the city or closed its doors a significant revenue base would be lost. Without the revenue and merchant base the city would fade from existence. With the merchant base and the population it attracted the fire dept could not raise money with a carnival or any other event for that matter. As you can see this is becoming quite vicious series of catastrophic events for all concerned.

In as much a meeting was held between members of the city and the fire department and it was agreed the city would take over the purchasing of fire department equipment in order to ease the burden of fundraising for the fire department. It was agreed at this point the fire department would then seek annual voluntary donations from the citizens in the form of a letter campaign, a custom that continues to this day. For many years the fire department purchased insurance for the equipment bough by the city, but at some point the insurance companies decided not to honor this policy and the city ten picked up the premium for insurance. It is unclear exactly when this occurred but today I believe the city is self insured for the equipment it owns.

The funding for the Salisbury Fire Department is in many forms. Each source of funding has specific guidelines on how the money can be spent and on what. For instance, there is a fund known as “The County Fund”. This fund earmarks money specifically for equipment. Not capital equipment such as Engines and trucks, but items such as breathing apparatus, hand tools, generators etc. Each fire department in the county receives this money annually. Than there is the “508 Fund” This fund is an annual allotment from the state of Md. This money must be kept in a separate account from all other funds garnered or earned by the department. Along with this is the “County Matching Fund”. This fund matches the 508 money and is earmarked for capital equipment. The matching fund I am told is a “Use it or Lose it” fund. Money from this source is not to be set aside for the following year or to be used for investment purposes.

“The Lacey Fund” comes from a generous personal gift made to the Salisbury Fire Department several years ago. This money, I am told is under the control of the Community Foundation and each of the three stations in Salisbury receive a quarterly dividend from this fund.

The letters sent out each year requesting donations is a continuation of the original agreement between the city and the fire department back in the late 20’s or early 30’s. These are the donation envelopes Albero is urging everyone to throw away. Throw them away if you like but the end result is the citizens will be the ones to suffer.

An executive board with in the department distributes the tax money received by the department. This board consists of 6 Assistant Chiefs from the 3 Salisbury Station who meet with the volunteer Deputy Chief who acts as liaison with the Chief of the Department in order to allocate the expenditure of these funds. Donations from the public are supervised by the volunteer organization receiving such. Contrary to the belief of some of Albero’s disciples the Mayor does not hold the purse strings of tax generated revenue or charitable donations. Although it sounds as if the department realizes much tax revenue, the money received is really quite small compared to the operating budget. This is true with all departments in the county and this is why donations from the public and support of fund raising events are so critical.

None of the players in this original agreement are alive today and the information I have gotten has come from a number of sources and records. To the absolute best of my knowledge the above statements are true and correct. If I have made any errors I invite corrections with verification and I will gladly post the same. Nothing I have said here is privileged. Anyone, including Albero and his cohorts are welcome to seek out and question reliable sources with-in the SFD for clarification on any financial issue and use of tax money in its charge. One final piece of information I can offer here is a small section from the City Charter. Section 2.16.040, ss B, and items 6-8 it states:

6. Use all tax funds received by the volunteer fire company to assist in the operation of the fire department. A volunteer executive board comprised of assistant fire chiefs (volunteer) from each volunteer fire company and the deputy chief (volunteer) shall manage the expenditure of these funds in consultation with the fire chief to assure the expenditure is for fire-fighting and emergency medical response needs of the fire department. Solely the volunteer fire company shall supervise the expenditure of charitable donations received by a volunteer fire company;

7. Provide an annual financial disclosure statement, tax returns and audit report in such detail as the fire chief requests to enable the city to ensure accountability for the expenditure of tax funds;

8. Not conduct any fund raising activities of any kind on city property or with use of fire department apparatus or equipment without the written approval of the fire chief. The fire chief shall be notified of all fund raising activities.

A copy of the city charter is on the city website and is available for all to read.

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