Area departments face dilemma

It is worth revisiting a recent Cassadaga Village Board meeting on March 4 when its volunteer fire department was asking for additional financial assistance.

Mayor LeeAnn Lazarony, after her board approved $25,000 for turnout gear for the department a month earlier, was hearing about radio upgrades and work needed on a fire truck. Totals for both would reach more than six figures for the village, which has a population of just under 700.

“I have said this all along, and believe me I am pro-firemen, but sooner or later things are going to have to consolidate,” she said. “We will have to work together with other departments to get what we need. Not that you can’t have your own entities, you all can maintain your own thing, but we’re going to have to pull together with the town of Stockton, the village, Lily Dale and pool our resources together to get the things that we need.”

Exactly.

Adding to the frustration of those who fund departments, including residents through fund-raisers, is getting information. Volunteer fire department budgets are not always public record, thus they are available only to a select few board members.

It’s a very slippery slope. On one hand, you want to support a department. On another, you probably already are through your tax dollars.

Documents for the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department are available through the Internal Revenue Service 990 forms. According to those 2014 documents, the department has more than $860,000 in assets.

Finances for the Cassadaga department, however, are nowhere to be found. That’s probably because its revenues are normally less than $25,000, thus they need not fill out an IRS 990 form. They, instead, file a 990-N, which is less complex and not as readily available publicly.

Department leaders know this and those normally asking a board or a resident for funding do not always disclose the agency’s finances.

That does not mean there are not problems. The Silver Creek department five years ago was missing thousands of dollars due to misappropriation. Westfield’s departments faced major scrutiny from a Board of Fire Commissioners which was created in light of an audit due to financial concerns by the state comptroller’s office.

Most departments are accountable, trustworthy and ready to respond in minutes to an emergency. But people are human. Money gets lost – and sometimes in the wrong hands.

It happens in business. It definitely happens in government. And it will happen in volunteer organizations.

For the sake of transparency, especially since departments receive government funding, volunteer departments need to be more open with their finances. Not only will they then have nothing to hide, but it will add a confidence to those who are contributing to a very worthwhile cause.

Coming in focus

On Saturday, the OBSERVER takes a look at business, industry and community organizations in Vision 2015.

In addition to a number of profiles, we also have awarded Visionary honors for business, developer, community service and education. It’s an excellent reader piece that highlights some positive economic development in our region.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.