Rostraver firefighters battle over money
With $201,000 available for Rostraver Township fire departments, higher stakes have produced stiffer requirements.
And fire department officials disagree on how the money should be split.
Representatives from Rostraver No. 1 (Webster), Rostraver Central and Collinsburg gathered Wednesday with township commissioners Andy Temoshenka, Gary Beck, Don Bottman and Brian Sokol. Commissioner Pat Egros was absent.
Solicitor Al Gaudio unveiled a resolution outlining rules for disbursement of the money.
A key component requires departments to file for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, which Gaudio said “creates a lot of credibility.”
“With added payment comes added responsibility and additional accountability,” Gaudio told the firefighters. “The overriding principal of this resolution is that it's done in the best interests of the residents of the township.
“This isn't something to benefit organizations, it's to benefit the citizens.”
The resolution would allow fire departments to purchase equipment, repair structures and handle other functions.
“No three people are the same. No three businesses are exactly the same,” Gaudio said. “I don't think this should end up being a popularity contest.”
Rostraver Central has nonprofit status. Collinsburg and Rostraver No. 1 are seeking the designation.
Each department will receive its $33,000 annual township stipend.
Collinsburg Vice President Gary Patterson, Rostraver No. 1 Chief Dave Pierce and No. 1 Assistant Chief Rudy Godzak said money from the new fund should be split three ways.
Devin DeRienzo, Rostraver Central treasurer, asked the board for $100,000, leaving the other companies to split the remainder.
“Rostraver Central covers over 75 percent of this township,” DeRienzo said. “We handled over 500 calls a year.”
“We won't go there,” Patterson said.
“We came to this board to help pay for bills, and fundraising is downhill,” DeRienzo responded. “We're not asking for free money so we can buy what we want.”
DeRienzo cited the 2007 purchase of a 100-foot ladder truck with a 2,000 gallons-per-minute pump.
He said the truck was needed because of township growth and new businesses and properties that could not be covered by an older vehicle the department has since sold.
DeRienzo said the new truck was ordered prior to a drastic decline in bingo and other fundraising efforts. He said it improved safety and helped increase the township's Insurance Service Office rating. Insurance companies use the fire service ratings to determine prices for individuals and businesses.
“I understand two departments want to share the money equally,” DeRienzo said. “Rostraver Central feels that it should not.”
“Of course not,” Godzak shot back.
Godzak proposed that any money distributed from the fund should require the approval of at least four commissioners instead of a simple majority.
Gaudio said he was uncomfortable with a resolution involving 4-1 votes, “because you're hamstringing future boards.”
“Is it for the best interest of the residents?” he asked.
“In my opinion, yes. Ninety percent of votes taken in this room are 3-2 votes,” Godzak said. “The board doesn't work together.”
Gaudio said such a move might garner political popularity, “but I don't see it that way.”
He noted the goal is to help the departments to help residents.
“What you're saying is, because we live within our means and don't overspend (and) get ourselves into debt, that we're not eligible to receive money out of this. Because the other ones that overspend and buy things they can't pay for now need the money to subsidize their bills?” Godzak said.
Gaudio noted a provision in the resolution that would forbid payments to companies under probation, and that Rostraver No. 1 is under probation.
Godzak said he believed his department had been removed from probation.
“There is nothing to prevent the commissioners from equalizing the allotment,” and shouldn't that be (based) on performance,” Gaudio said.
“What if they don't perform equally? What actions can the commissioners take that's in the best interest of the residents?”
After the meeting, Temoshenka indicated that probation for Rostraver No. 1 could be lifted by obtaining proper certification.
Sokol read aloud an email from Pierce stating Sokol should abstain from voting on fire department allocations because of a conflict of interest. Sokol, a firefighter for more than 30 years, is Rostraver Central president.
Gaudio said there can be no conflict of interest unless Sokol directly profits from such decisions.
“They must've forgot to send me the check,” Sokol said sarcastically. “Maybe I'll have to check my mailbox.”
“We come up here, and we get beat up all the time,” Rostraver No. 1 Capt. Sam Weir said. “You tried to shut us down completely. All we want to do is get our territory back and take some of the burden off (Rostraver Central).”
“And it made you a better fire department. Did it or did it not?” Sokol said.
“Yeah, but that was not your intention,” Weir said.
“That's not true. How do you know what my intentions were?” Sokol replied. “Did I not vote in public?”
After the meeting, Sokol said the fact that fire companies are hurting should not be forgotten.
“The bottom line is, the casinos and the economy have destroyed these fire companies and hindered their fundraisers,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the fire departments alive and well.”
Temoshenka did not anticipate a final vote until May at the earliest.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.