Tabernacle Rescue Squad Contract Tabled
The Township Committee tabled official discussion of the proposed TRS contract. Mayor Stephen Lee tabled it because Committee members Kim Brown and Rick Franzen weren’t at the meeting. Also, my husband and I submitted five pages of comments and questions, which the Committee said they wanted to take time to address. Our comments and questions are based on the August 21, 2016, TTJ Post.
Although the Committee didn’t discuss the contract, it listened to public comment. Stuart Brooks commented that the Agreement was so unbalanced that it looked like it had been written by the TRS. He said that the Committee couldn’t rationally discuss financial terms without understanding how much money the Township spent on the TRS or how much revenue the TRS received. He pointed out that the Township gives a cash contribution to the TRS and also gives them substantial subsidies. The Committee doesn’t seem to know how much the Township spends, in total, on the TRS.
I commented that residents who ask questions about TRS funding are wrongly portrayed as “anti-volunteer.” These questions aren’t about the TRS membership or about the work that they do. The questions are about accountability. Elected officials and residents should know where all of their taxes are spent. I commented that the proposed contract does nothing to require accountability or improve transparency.
I also commented that because the TRS gets paid thorough insurance billings, the State does not consider it to be a volunteer organization. And there are reports that TRS members are receiving $10,000 to $12,000 annually in compensation.
TRS Captain Stephen Cramer thanked the Committee for the homework that it did to produce the contract. He also commented that the Committee and Rescue Squad had planned for the Squad to give money back to the Township and that this plan was well executed this past year in the budget process.
Let’s be clear about that plan and what really happened. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Committee agreed that the Township would continue to contribute $70,000 annually to the TRS and the TRS could keep the insurance billings without any questions asked in public.
The $70,000 was supposed to cover the costs of Tabernacle residents who didn’t have insurance. Under the federal anti- kickback statute, the Township’s contribution has to be “reasonably related” to the amount of uncollected billings. Seventy-thousand dollars is generally the maximum contribution the Township can make by New Jersey law.
It turns out that the cost of uninsured residents wasn’t close to $70,000. TRS President Jamie Wood said it was actually less than $35,000. But the paperwork they submitted wasn’t clear (see the August 21, TTJ Post). In addition, the TRS expected to keep the insurance billings of approximately $225,000. Also, the TRS expected to receive all of the Township subsidies for rent, insurance, etc..
In its 2016 budget, the Committee authorized an annual contribution of $35,000 to the TRS. Under the proposed contract, the TRS would pay for its fuel, which costs about $7,500 annually, but would still get the insurance revenues and the Township subsidies. These are insignificant changes to the financial status quo.
I disagree with Captain Cramer that the reduction of the annual contribution in 2016 from $70,000 to $35,000 is a well executed give back. Even if $35,000 is the accurate number, TRS President Jamie Wood asked the Township for a contribution of $40,000. The request for $40,000 was $5,000 more than what the TRS said was needed. A give back would have been if the TRS returned the money that it didn’t use to cover the uncollected billings in 2013, 2014 and 2015. They didn’t give any money back. It went into their surplus.
The fact that the TRS has been getting approximately $225,000 (if not more) in insurance billings plus what I estimate to be about $400,000 in other Township contributions and subsidies is more like a give-away than a give back. The TRS’s willingness to pay its $7,500 fuel bill is so small relative to these other revenues, that it can’t really be considered a give back either.
As I’ve said many times before, the only way to know if the financial relationship is fair to all taxpayers is to look at the numbers. We should specifically see how much the Township gives to the TRS in cash and in subsidies. We should see how much the TRS receives in revenues, including the insurance billings. We should see how the TRS compensation program works and how much it costs. Only after that is done can the Township seriously discuss a contract.
An out-of-date Financial Statement, which is all the accountability that the Township requires, is too general and too stale to address this problem.
The Township Committee requires the TRS to submit its Financial Statement on December 9. That’s an impractical date which happens to be the anniversary of the signing of the Township/TRS Use License Agreement.
Before last year, the TRS typically submitted its Financial Statement in the spring of the following year. For example, its 2013 Financial Statement was submitted in the spring of 2014. But last year, the TRS submitted its 2014 Financial Statement in December 2015, a full year after they closed their books. Because the Committee adopts its budget in April or May, the 2016 Township budget is based on TRS’s 2014 information.
When it was brought to the Committee’s attention that the TRS hadn’t submitted its 2014 Financial Statement in the spring, as it usually did, the Committee did nothing. The TRS still hasn’t submitted its 2015 Financial Statement. Again, the Township hasn’t asked for it.
The Committee’s consistent failure to get timely financial information shows that it’s more interested in serving the TRS than creating a relationship that’s truly fair for everyone. Both the Township and the TRS have long-opposed the public release and discussion of this information. The TRS views itself as a private club that isn’t accountable to the public. And this view is reinforced by the Township. The proposed lopsided contract is the latest result of this narrow thinking.
Tabernacle Athletic Association Use/License Agreement
The Committee has drafted a Use/License Agreement for the TAA’s use of the new snack stand. The Township built it at a cost of about $300,000, maybe more. The Agreement establishes the responsibilities for both the TAA and the Township.
Because the Agreement addresses the costs that will be born by the Township taxpayers, it raises the larger question of whether the level of the Township’s funding to the TAA is fair. My basic comment on the proposed TAA contract is the same as I made on the Township’s proposed contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad and it’s existing contract with the Tabernacle Fire Company #1.
All of these contracts should be based on a complete and public understanding of the overall costs and revenues of the organizations. Only then can the Township rationally and fairly determine what the public funding should be. That’s the only way to assure that these Agreements are fair to everyone. Unfortunately, for all organizations, there’s little to no public understanding of the financials.
Here’s a brief history of the snack stand. The Township received a construction grant from the County in June 2011, for $250,000. The grant covered only “hard” construction costs. It didn’t cover “soft costs” such as architects’ fees, attorney fees, maintenance and operational costs, equipment or the sign on the building, which cost $2,115.
The County grant is taxpayer funded. Our property tax bill includes a levy for “County Farmland/Open Space.” In 2011, the levy was slightly more than four cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That’s usually the typical rate. These tax revenues fund the “Burlington County Farmland, Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.” The Trust Fund gave the grant to Tabernacle Township.
The Township and the TAA planned for TAA volunteers to build the snack stand. But they didn’t. By 2014, private contractors had to be hired. According to a Committee member, the snack stand has cost taxpayers over $300,000, which is more than the $250,000 grant amount. The decision to construct such an expensive facility for the exclusive use of such a small segment of Tabernacle is a questionable one.
The Township dedicated the snack stand in May 2016 and turned it over to the TAA for its use and control. The Township has now drafted a Use/License Agreement to establish the terms of its use and the responsibilities of Tabernacle and the TAA.
As it does with the TRS and the TFC#1, the Township gives substantial public subsidies to the TAA without much accounting or oversight. The only accountability the Township requires is that the TAA submit it’s Financial Statement, which like the TRS’s and TFC#1’s, is too general and too stale to use for proper budgeting and other purposes.
The TAA Agreement allows it to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from the snack stand sales. Here’s a overview of the Township’s and the TAA’s obligations. It’s valuable to read the Agreement.
- Trash collection
- Provide trash receptacles and recycling receptacles
- Provide restroom supplies except for tournaments and special events
- Off-season winterizing
- Responsible for all underground utility lines and pipes leading to stand
- Maintain and landscape grounds
- Pay all trash service costs, snow plow parking lot and buildings
- Pay roof repairs
- Maintain HVAC and plumbing and pay for all repairs
- Pay all costs for phone, cable, internet alarm, security lines to stand and buildings on premises
- Pay for annual water test
- Pay all insurances (except contents insurance): accident and sports liability, commercial liability, worker compensation, sports clinic insurance, etc..
- Maintain inside of snack stand
- Responsible for all appliances and food equipment and repairs
- Provide restroom supplies for tournaments and special events
- Compliance with municipal, county, state, federal law and regulation
- Compliance with all state and county health regulations
- Responsible for maintaining sanitary conditions
- Responsible for all contents in stand
- Coaches and snack stand volunteers required to return keys after each season
- Company president and Baseball Director keep keys for off-season access to building for emergency purposes
- Reimburse Township for utilities
- Pay all costs for cleaning and repairs to or replacement of kitchen equipment, appliances, vending machines, washing machines, ice machines. The Agreement doesn’t indicate which entity buys the equipment, machines or appliances.
- Pay contents insurance
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for youth sports. But many of the costs that Township residents pay for the TAA are basic operational costs. These costs probably should be paid by TAA participants, not by all Tabernacle taxpayers. The TAA has yet to publicly explain, and the Township has yet to publicly ask for a thorough explanation of the TAA’s costs and revenues. That’s a conversation that should happen, but hasn’t.
For example, Township residents have been paying all of the TAA’s insurance costs, and has done so for years. (The cost of accident and sports liability, for example, has doubled since 2012.) The Township also pays for additional insurance such as sports clinics, workers compensation and commercial general liability. None of these insurance costs are passed through to TAA’s participants. Under the Agreement, TAA will only pay contents and officers insurance.
Because there’s no pass through or oversight, Tabernacle taxpayers were paying for the insurance of out-of-town participants. That’s clearly wrong! After I pointed this out, TAA started to reimburse the Township for an “insurance surcharge,” which it collects from non-Tabernacle participants. TAA insists that it’s “…not obliged by ordinance to make this payment….” The Township should be blamed for not correcting its recreation ordinance. But TAA shouldn’t have allowed Tabernacle taxpayers to pay for the insurance of non-Tabernacle participants, regardless of what the ordinance says.
The TAA and Township should be monitoring the total program costs to ensure that participants pay their fair share. Maintenance and insurance are the biggest costs. Part of these costs are properly considered user fees and should be paid for by TAA participants. After all, they are the primary users of the programs and the facilities. But participants don’t pay any more towards these costs than any other taxpayer.
TAA also gives three scholarships toward “post-secondary” education. TAA says these scholarships are given to reflect TAA’s “…mission of fostering sportsmanship, dedication, honesty, loyalty, and commitment to community.” These are certainly laudable goals.
But TAA says that its primary role is to be the provider of sports programs for children in the Tabernacle community. Its role largely fills the same public purpose that many municipal recreation departments used to fill before the function began to shift to volunteer athletic associations.
It’s a reasonable question to ask whether TAA should give private scholarships at all. The provision of sports programs to children is complete when the children leave TAA. The mission doesn’t include post-secondary education.
Also, the idea of giving scholarships for private citizens gets especially dicey if they are directly or indirectly funded by public tax dollars. Again, the TAA has yet to explain, and the Township has yet to ask, how these scholarships are funded and whether tax dollars are involved in any way. Nor has the Township Committee ever asked whether it would be better to provide tax relief to all rather than a scholarship to three.
It’s not surprising that the Committee hasn’t asked these questions. Many Committee members have been or are currently TAA coaches. They see the issues from the TAA perspective. But, because they are members of the Tabernacle Committee, they need to relate to and understand the perspective of residents who no longer have kids in TAA, or never have. All taxpayers expect to pay for education regardless of whether they have or had kids in the school system. But youth sports isn’t like that.
Tabernacle Fire Company #1 – Chief’s Report
TFC#1 Chief Dave Smith gave his Chief’s Report. The report wasn’t on the agenda and the Committee seemed surprised when Administrator Doug Cramer whispered that the Chief was in the audience and wanted to give a report. Mayor Lee took the opportunity to ask Clerk La Shawn Barber to have the Chief’s report noted in the minutes.
The Chief reported on fire graduation from the Burlington County Emergency Services on August 25, 2016, the Open House for fire protection week, the denied grants that TFC#1 applied for and a number of technical fire issues.
The largest amount of time was spent discussing the logo and decal for the new fire truck. While this may seem a minor issue, as Mayor Lee pointed out, the truck is an important piece of public property and the logo and decal should be given serious consideration.
When the Fire District was managing fire services, a Chief’s Report was required and given monthly. Chief Smith’s August 22 report was the first Chief’s Report since the TFC#1 became the official provider of fire services in late 2014.
The roughly 18-month gap of silence reflects the Township Committee’s poor management. When the Committee dissolved the Fire District, it took on the responsibility of managing fire services and coordinating fire with emergency services. That responsibility was given to Administrator Doug Cramer.
It’s understandable that additional and immediate work was needed to transition from the Fire District to the Township. But Mr. Cramer should’ve been up-to-speed long ago. The fact that Chief Smith hadn’t been called on to give a report earlier, and no one knew that he’d be reporting at the August 22 meeting, shows that fire services aren’t being effectively managed.
The Committee is considering a contract with the TRS. Township Administrator Cramer is likely to be the point person for this contract also. Given the poor management of TFC#1, there’s every reason to expect that the management of TRS, which will require additional work, will be even worse.
Residential Chicken Ordinance
The Committee is considering the adoption of a residential chicken ordinance. For an excellent review of the discussion, see Stephen Pistone’s article in the Pine Barrens Tribune.
The next Township meeting will be held Monday, September 12, 7:30 PM, at town hall.