Officials: Keep fire funding fix local

November 10, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the chairman of the Washington County legislative delegation, left, leads Thursday night's meeting with the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, Washington County Commissioners, and the Washington County delegation held at the Smithsburg Fire Hall.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG — In a largely cordial meeting Thursday night, state, county, and fire and rescue association officials agreed that, while minor changes to state law may be needed, an agreement governing the distribution of gaming funds to fire companies should be worked out at the local level.

"We don't want to be in this any more than we have to up here," said Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the chairman of the Washington County legislative delegation. "We'll let you work it out, OK?"

The meeting, held at the Smithsburg Fire Hall, brought together delegation members, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, leaders of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, county staff and about 40 fire and rescue company officials.

It was held to address concerns that not enough of the proceeds from tip jar gaming in the county — 50 percent of which are intended to support volunteer fire and rescue operations — has been reaching the companies.

A yearlong investigation by The Herald-Mail has shown that the association has withheld a large chunk of the gaming revenue each year. The county has no recourse, because the state law governing gaming revenue gives the association the right to do whatever it wants with the money without telling local government.

The delegation members at Thursday's meeting — Serafini, Sen. Christopher B. Shank, Del. John P. Donoghue, Del. LeRoy Myers Jr., and Del. Neil C. Parrott — said they would support a simple change to state law that would give the county the same authority to require accountability for gaming funds distributed to the fire companies as it has over such funds distributed to charitable organizations.

Both Serafini and an attorney for the fire and rescue association presented proposals for how the county and the association could handle the distribution.

In Serafini's proposal, fire and rescue association members would develop a budget for using the gaming funds, and the commissioners would approve that spending plan before releasing the funds.

Association attorney D. Bruce Poole distributed a draft memorandum of agreement, developed in consultation with county staff, in which the association would agree to financial reporting requirements.

Under his draft agreement, the association would be allowed to keep a "rainy day" fund with a balance never to exceed $100,000. Funds above that amount in the current reserves would be distributed to the companies within 90 days of the agreement.

Details of that agreement will need to be worked out between the county and the association, meeting participants agreed.

"I just don't think it's generally a good use of the delegation to be dictating on high what the county's doing and what the association's doing," Shank said.


Editor's note: This story was edited Nov. 14, 2011, to reflect that Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was also in attendance at the meeting.

The Herald-Mail Articles