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The East Manchester Township supervisors voted 2-0 at a Tuesday, Nov. 13, meeting to immediately release $26,000 to the Eagle Fire Co. for a truck payment and to release an additional $37,500 pending certain stipulations.

Vice Chairman David Naylor and Supervisor Barry E. Rudisill voted in favor of the motion. Chairman Steven H. Gross Jr. was absent.

The move came after a long discussion at the meeting regarding the township's withholding of a $37,500 donation to the fire company, which serves Mount Wolf and East Manchester Township.

The $26,000 is from the equipment line item in the township's budget. (The truck payment is $23,000, but the supervisors chose to release the budgeted $26,000.) 

Naylor said the township had been withholding the funds because of a Northeastern Regional Police investigation into the theft of cash taken from a fire company fundraising event on Mother's Day, and that it had been the township's position to wait until the investigation was complete.

Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo told The York Dispatch in early November that the investigation was nearing completion but no arrests had been made.

In a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 13, in Manchester Township, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced that $55.1 million would be released to volunteer firefighters' relief association funds across the state.

York County is set to receive $1.9 million of that total, but the announcement did not address disbursement amounts to specific fire companies, including Eagle Fire Co. Representatives from Eagle Fire Co. could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

More: Eagle Fire Co. blames E. Manchester for funding problems

More: Mount Wolf fire company makes changes after theft

Safety concern: In a written statement that he read aloud at the Tuesday, Nov. 13, township meeting, Fire Chief Jacob Bush told the supervisors that the lack of funding from the township is putting East Manchester Township residents in danger.

"We are nearing a time that without funding, a decision will need to be made as to whether the Eagle Fire Co. can provide fire protection in East Manchester Township," Bush said.

Bush said the fire company's remaining options would be to send an itemized invoice to the township after every future call within the municipality or to downsize the company and cease operations within the township.

Naylor said the township had made clear since September its three stipulations for the release of the donated funds and that the fire company had so far not met those terms.

Those stipulations, Naylor said, were that the fire company would provide the township with a complete audit of its operations, change the policies and procedures for the handling of money to prevent another theft and hire a certified public accountant to review the company's finances and bookkeeping.

"We don't like holding the money back," Naylor said. "We do appreciate the service you provide to the community, but we have to protect our taxpayer dollars, and we feel that we're doing this with these three things."

Bush pushed back, saying that the first time the fire company learned about the audit requirement was in early November and that the company had immediately begun looking for a CPA to prepare the audit.

"It takes time," Bush said. "It's hard to find somebody and to pay somebody, especially when you don't have the funding to pay for that."

Naylor said that an engagement letter with an auditor would suffice, as long as it showed that the fire company had secured someone for the job.

As the meeting progressed, township and fire company officials clashed over miscommunication and confusion about the stipulations for the release of funds.

Fire officials said they were never told that an engagement letter from an auditor would satisfy the audit stipulation for the release of funds.

Naylor said the fire company could have called the township manager, Dave Gentzler, for clarification if there was uncertainty about the requirements.

Stephen Trott, a trustee with the fire company, told the supervisors that under the fire company's previous leadership, company funds were not well managed, and he said the company is aware and actively making changes to ensure thorough and proper bookkeeping moving forward.

"We're looking back at multiple years and we're committed to fixing this, but it can't be fixed overnight," Trott said.

Trott said he's interviewed several CPA candidates and narrowed it down to one or two people who are interested in taking on the task of getting the fire company's finances in order.

Residents' responses: Jody Hahn, a resident in the eastern part of the township, asked the supervisors to meet the fire company halfway and at least make their $23,000 truck payment.

Hahn said she has three young children, and that if her house were to catch fire and Eagle Fire Co. no longer covered the township, she would have to wait for a fire department from the other side of town to respond.

"I think that would take a lot of pressure off of them, knowing at least their truck payment has been made," she said. "As a resident, I'd feel a little bit more relieved, too, knowing that they have a truck that isn't going to be taken back."

Another resident, Andrew Kehl, raised his hand and explained that he is a CPA and has audited several townships, boroughs and fire companies.

Kehl said auditors are heading into their busy season, roughly January through April, and that it's unlikely the supervisors will receive a complete 2018 audit report from the fire company until the busy season is over.

"I think you are right in saying, 'Find a firm that would provide an engagement letter and at least have that in your hands,'" Kehl said to the supervisors, "but I don't think you're going to get an audit report before the beginning of summer of next year."

Resident Jason Zeidman said he was sympathetic to both sides of the disagreement.

Zeidman said he thought the fire company's request for a truck payment was reasonable, since fire officials had made progress addressing the township's concerns, and he said the township's request for more thorough reporting and transparency from the fire company was also reasonable.

His main concern moving forward, he said, was that the township and the fire company develop a good relationship, keeping in mind that everyone involved has the same goal of keeping the community safe.

"I don't want to see the finger-pointing," Zeidman said. "We've got enough of that in politics."

After the meeting, Bush said he's hopeful the fire company will be able to meet the township's stipulations for the release of the remaining funds before the board of supervisors' December meeting.

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