Washies and the Borough of Conshohocken – Meeting Tonight
by Brian Coll
The following is some facts, some details and some of my opinion. I will try to state when something is my opinion.
Let’s start with my opinion. The Borough of Conshohocken was wrong to take the trucks out of the Washington Fire Company and move them around the Borough of Conshohocken. I’m not saying that at some point this conflict may have come to that, I’m just saying that for a handful of people including Borough employees and fire personal from the Conshohocken Fire Company #2 to be aware that this was going to happen, to execute it during a holiday weekend could have been handled differently. If the meeting goes in favor of Washies tonight, there is some trust that has been lost during this process. The average person in our community goes to bed with the comfort that if something goes wrong in our community a handful of volunteers are getting out of bed and going to try to help.
Does anyone remember how Washies looked at one point? Check out the above photo. When Washies, Washies took on a massive loan and amount of debt to build the other 3 bays as well as the fire hall above they did that with their own money and they brought upon themselves a large amount of debt. Now… when times were good between the borough and Washies. Washies was more than happy to provide a large meeting space for issues like WAWA. Washies may have charged the borough a nominal fee much like they did when hosting countless fundraisers for our community. Washies was able to charge for weddings and other functions, but the fees they charged to host events didn’t really make up for the overhead that came along with it. Part of the reason Washies thought to create the addition was in case there was ever a need for a combined fire company for the Borough of Conshohocken that they would have enough space to handle all of the vehicles and equipment the borough, the residents and the office community needed. Washies has 6 large bays. Washies has the only ladder truck in the community. Washies has helped with water rescues over the years.
Now…. Washies cut a deal to sell part of their building to the hotel group. Washies got out of debt and were looking to reconfigure the remaining space above the bays. For the first time in years Washies is out of a major debt.
In my opinion….. we need more firefighters, we need more funding for our fire companies. And, I am not a big fan of putting anyone down, so please take this as constructive criticism, I’m sure when every politician ever, not limited to our borough…. I’m sure every politician when running for office, if asked if they support fire companies they say yes. Now I understand that tough decisions need to be made. And, I’m not on council, I’m not in that room with you when this issue came up. I would have to imagine someone spoke up and said, there has to be a different way of doing this. I wish the rest of council listened to this person. If no one said this…. if no one said this, if no one spoke up, then maybe Conshohocken isn’t the community I have always thought it is.
This was the first statement from the Borough of Conshohocken on July 5th:
The Borough of Conshohocken did not close Washington Fire Company on Friday, July 5, 2019. The Borough did remove Borough-owned equipment from Washington Fire Company, while the Borough attempts to work through administrative and operational items with the fire company’s management team. That equipment is being housed at, and will be dispatched from, Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 until further notice. The County has been informed of this operational change. The health and safety of the Borough’s residents, businesses and visitors is paramount. Therefore, the Borough of Conshohocken has taken deliberate steps to ensure it continues to deliver the same level and quality of fire service protection to our residents, businesses and visitors during this time. Please contact Borough Hall at 610-828-1092 with any questions or concerns.
However, this statement was put out a little after 12:00 on Friday and the offices closed at 12:30 leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
Here was the next statement from the Borough of Conshohocken:
Posted: July 6, 2019 | Announcements
The Borough of Conshohocken has received questions and concerns regarding Public Safety as it pertains to Washington Fire Company. The decision to place Washington Fire Company out of service with Montgomery County was not made without first making certain that Borough residents, businesses and visitors would continue to receive the same level and quality of fire service protection. The Borough’s Fire Chief worked diligently through this process to ensure that the Borough had a fully operational Fire Department at all times. He is confident that the services and apparatus in place are more than sufficient to handle any emergency situation in the Borough.
Please note that the only tangible change as it relates to responding to emergencies in our Borough is that the same equipment and individuals that previously responded to fire calls from two different fire stations located 9 blocks away from each other are now being dispatched from one central location, Fire Company #2. This central location provides the Borough with an emergency response that is never farther than a 9 block radius.
Fire Company #2 is a fully equipped Fire Company which now houses the Borough’s Ladder Truck. On July 5th, equipment owned by Washington Fire Company was removed from Borough trucks previously stored there, and immediately replaced by equipment owned by Fire Company #2. In other words, during this entire process, the Borough always had a full complement of fire apparatus ready to be deployed to effectively and safely handle any type of emergency.
Additionally, all Worker’s Compensation coverages were maintained for all volunteer firefighters in Conshohocken regardless of station affiliation to ensure they were protected when responding to an emergency situation. The Fire Chief notified all volunteers firefighters that they could respond to fire calls from Fire Company #2.
To reiterate, the Borough has always had a fully functioning Fire Department. Even during this process, there were four paid firefighters on location to handle calls if necessary. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our residents, businesses and visitors for their patience and support. We would also like to thank our mutual aid partners. We understand that change is difficult. We understand that this process has been difficult for Washington Fire Company. We also understand that this process was difficult for Conshohocken Fire Company #2 but they have been fully cooperative throughout the entire process and we appreciate that immensely.
The safety of our Borough is paramount. As we continue to diligently work through this process, rest assured that our men and women that sacrifice their lives to protect others still have the equipment and resources available to them so they can do their jobs and we thank them for their service.
On July 8th this was posted from the Borough of Conshohocken:
Posted: July 8, 2019 | Announcements
Conshohocken Fire Company #2 and Washington Fire Company both receive appropriations of tax dollars annually of approximately $100,000. In 2017, the Borough conducted an agreed upon procedures audit with respect to the Borough’s appropriations distributed to Washington Fire Company and Conshohocken Fire Company #2 for the years ending 2015 and 2016. An “agreed upon procedures” audit is a targeted approach that involves testing only specific balances or transactions that in this case consisted of Borough appropriations. The audit reviewed financial activity for variances that appeared to be significant, unusual or unexpected and provided recommendations to Fire Company management for internal controls. During the process of this audit, the Borough offered significant assistance to both Fire Companies as needed.
On June 5, 2019, the Borough, at a Public Meeting, again authorized an audit for both Conshohocken Fire Companies for fiscal year 2018. Two years have passed since the “agreed upon procedures audit” for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, during which time the Fire Companies had an opportunity to address any operational or internal control deficiencies. For the current audit, therefore, the Borough’s 3rd party auditor was engaged to complete a full audit of both Fire Companies. A full audit consists of the following: drafting a financial statement; evaluating operating/internal controls; generation of an auditor’s opinion; and drafting of a letter to management documenting the outcome of the audit and any findings.
Importantly, a full audit also includes evaluation of financial activity as a whole as opposed to an audit of just Borough appropriations. As the Borough enters budget season, fiscally responsible decisions have to be made as it relates to appropriations in the Borough’s budget. While the fiscal year 2015 and 2016 audits were beneficial for purposes of identifying operational or internal control issues, the audits did not provide the Borough with a full picture of the financials of the Fire Companies, notwithstanding their receipt of significant Borough appropriations. Balancing the Borough’s budget requires careful analysis of all appropriations—not just the Fire Companies—and the Borough is doing a thorough review of the financial deficiencies and/or surpluses throughout the Borough’s myriad financial obligations.
Since both Fire Companies are partners in providing emergency services to Borough residents, businesses and visitors, we expected full cooperation from the management at each Company. The Borough contacted both Fire Company presidents on May 28, 2019 notifying them that Council would be discussing the approval of the financial audit of both Fire Companies at the June 5th Public Meeting. They were also given a courtesy notice that both respective treasurers would be contacted directly by the Borough auditor.
Although Conshohocken Fire Company #2 has provided its financial information and is fully cooperating, the Borough’s auditors were informed that they would not be given access to Washington Fire Company’s financial information—aside from limited financials related specifically to use of Borough appropriations (i.e. the same type of information given for fiscal years 2015 and 2016). This was the case even after the Borough’s auditor offered to assist Washington Fire Company’s treasurer as needed.
As a result, the Borough is unable to complete an audit of the financials of an entity receiving approximately $100,000 in public monies.
As previously stated, the Borough has a fully operational Fire Department that has opened its doors to all volunteer Fire Fighters from Washington Fire Company. This collective team deploying from one centralized location did a fantastic job ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents, businesses and visitors this past weekend in their response to emergency situations and we thank them for their service.
The Borough reemphasizes its commitment to dedicating financial resources to ensure appropriate fire and emergency services in the Borough. Indeed, the Borough is currently in the process of securing over $1.5 million for the purchase of new fire trucks in the Borough, including innovative funding options. As an example, when the County Redevelopment Authority sold their land to Keystone Development Group, those funds were earmarked for use within the Borough of Conshohocken. The Borough has made a formal request to use $1.5 million of those funds for the new Fire Trucks, as safety is paramount to Borough operations. With the amount of development occurring in Conshohocken, we are pleased to have the opportunity to use funds stemming from that development to better the health, safety, and welfare of the Borough’s residents, business owners, and visitors, without burdening the taxpayers of Conshohocken. This request is formally under review.
The key to the continued financial success of the Borough is full, open, and careful analysis of the use of funds across all Borough operations. That analysis cannot occur without all necessary information.
At this time, the Borough will be making no decisions regarding Washington Fire Company until our 3rd party auditor comes back with a status report on the audit. At that time, we will identify if the Borough wants to continue its partnership with Washington Fire Company regarding fire services. The Borough has provided notification to Washington Fire Company management via email that they have until close of business day Wednesday, July 10th to comply with the Borough’s request for a full audit.
So, that brings us to the meeting tonight:
7:00 at Borough Hall and Washies looks to be a hot button topic on the agenda this evening.