East Penn Press

Thursday, April 26, 2018

MACUNGIE BOROUGH COUNCIL

Thursday, May 25, 2017 by CHRISTOPHER DRYFOOS Special to The Press in Local News

Committee reviews fire department; findings reported

Macungie Borough Council’s May 22 meeting brought many answers – and many questions – to issues surrounding the Macungie Fire Department.

Council President Chris Becker acknowledged a special committee consisting of several current and former area firemen has met several times over the last two months in order to give a thorough review of the fire department’s assets. The committee was formed after the fire department wished to increase its $40,000 annual budget and is still currently reviewing the department.

“It was a very extensive overview of the personnel, their training, the equipment – meaning what vehicles and such – and a look at their budget,” Becker said.

The committee highlighted four areas of focus: personnel and their certifications, vehicles, relief fund and the budget.

Regarding the previous issues of certification and training amongst fire department members, the committee received copies verifying training and also certificates validating it.

The committee also reviewed the audit reports of the fire department from Jan. 1, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2016. Audits are conducted every three years, and the most recent audit revealed the fire department was non-compliant with previous audit recommendations. Additionally, there were undocumented expenditures, failure to maintain meeting minutes, a failure to maintain a complete and accurate equipment roster as well as inadequate amount of signatures necessary to disburse appropriate funds for several items.

Tom Bailey, president of Bailey Associates insurance agency, confirmed invoices from 2014-2016 requested by the auditor were given to the fire department to be turned over to the auditor. “I don’t understand specifically what the audit is going to accept as allowable expenses,” Bailey added.

Tim Schantzenbach, a member of the special committee and a former fire chief, read statements from the most recent audit report regarding the unauthorized expenditures.

According to the report, the fire department’s relief association expended over $1,600 in 2013 for the department’s umbrella insurance policy premium. Over the 2014-2016 audit period, an additional $37,578 was used toward the department’s comprehensive insurance policy. Neither of these expenditures qualified as volunteer firefighter relief association expenditures and the auditor called for the relief association’s reimbursement of the money.

In response, Barbara Peters, who currently serves as treasurer for the Macungie Fire Department and the fireman’s relief association, told borough council the department is currently working with Bailey to break down the expenditures for the insurance policy in order to justify what can be paid by the relief and the general fund. Peters also stressed the other findings were being corrected. She provided documentation to the auditor for the undocumented expenditures. Regarding the inadequate signatures, Peters cited understaffing of the department.

“There was a period of time where our past treasurer was not available and we had to make payments from the relief, so we just had the president of the association make the signatures,” Peters said. “We did not have two people to sign.”

Peters also mentioned the meeting minutes and equipment roster were now being properly maintained. Becker asked Peters to keep council informed on their progress.

Another issue arose after business owner Tim Romig called the borough’s attention to a certification document which was supposed to be signed by a member of borough council. Council member John Yerman revealed that, when he spoke to a certification program specialist, he learned the document in question actually hadn’t been signed – rather, Becker’s name had been block printed onto the paper. Additionally, the person who accepted the document no longer works for the agency. Becker suggested another member of council continue the investigation, but asked everyone not to jump to conclusions.

“Quite honestly, I don’t remember ever seeing it before,” Becker said. “That’s not to say I couldn’t be wrong either.”

Council also addressed the Macungie Fire Department’s participation in the Boyko Funeral Home fire April 20. On the invitation of Macungie Fire Chief Mike Natysyn, Becker personally arrived on the scene. Eleven firefighters from the Macungie Fire Department aided a total of 91 firefighters in the blaze.

“These men, no matter who they are, can work together at a scene and it’s amazing to see what they did,” Becker said. “I was so impressed with their abilities to all work together.”

The controversy surrounding the fire department has caused six volunteer firefighters to resign in recent weeks. Currently, only 11 firefighters remain. Natysyn hopes to convince four of them to return to duty.

The fireman’s relief fund comes from the state and is issued by the borough of Macungie to the fire department. The borough has until late June to take address the corrective actions satisfactorily by working in compliance with the state auditor. If the actions are not addressed in a satisfactory manner, the department may have to pay back its relief fund and future relief funds may be cut as well.