Members of a committee credited with helping save the Port Matilda fire company from debt are stepping down over apparent disagreements with fire and governmental officials, according to the group’s leader.
Committee Chairman Lee Pressler said he and his fellow members are resigning Tuesday at the Upper Bald Eagle/Halfmoon Council of Governments meeting, partly because of what he called increased demands on the group.
Pressler helped form the independent committee in 2005 and signed a 10-year agreement that allowed it to control the fire department’s finances.
The move came after Pressler spearheaded an effort to rescue the department from potentially losing its fire hall and a truck to foreclosure in April 2005. The committee’s fundraising efforts and oversight have helped the fire department climb out of debt, pay off its mortgage and upgrade its fleet in the years since.
But Pressler says in the following eight years, COG and the fire department have “harassed the (committee) with problems and requirements.”
The latest issue stems from municipal officials asking the committee to reformat its annual reports and from fire officials asking for an electronic backup of the committee’s financial records, he said.
“That’s the one that broke the camel’s back,” Pressler said. “They (fire officials) don’t need that, and they won’t get that. I think they wanted to change some figures or something. I didn’t seem to me like it was on the up-and-up.”
Steve Kibe, Port Matilda fire association president, said the department wanted the electronic backup to create reports for the municipalities it serves — Port Matilda and Halfmoon, Taylor, Huston and Worth townships, which are also represented by COG.
He said the municipalities have been rebuffed in attempts to get the documents directly from the commission.
Kibe, also president of Port Matilda Borough Council, said the reports are meant to show municipal officials what the local tax money they designate to the fire department pays for.
Pressler said the committee already provides monthly reports to the municipalities, but that COG wants “a graphic thing with colors and a bar charts.”
“We had a meeting with just the committee ... this electronic backup really upset them,” Pressler said. “Somebody else will have control. We give them a report every month ... but nobody wants to take time to look. They want something colored.”
Kibe said he wasn’t aware the electronic backup was such an issue and said he believes it’s something that could be discussed.
But Pressler said he is ready to walk away, citing lack of gratitude and cooperation from COG and the fire department among his reasons.
“The time has come to let the Upper Bald Eagle-Halfmoon Council of Governments and the Port Matilda Fire Company solve their own problems,” he wrote in a statement to the Centre Daily Times.
When told of Pressler’s plans by a reporter Monday, Kibe said he was “shocked.”
“We’ve had some disagreements here or there, but I didn’t know (it was) anything to that level,” he said.
Kibe said he was unsure what steps the department would take if the commission resigns, but he indicated he would support finding new members to take the seats on the independent panel.
“I’ve made it clear that I like the (commission) in place,” he said. “Lee is a fantastic financial manager, and I’ve always been a proponent of the (commission) being there.
“The fire company is a fire company,” Kibe continued. “We know how to go to fires and accidents. Having (the commission) in place is certainly (beneficial).”
Pressler said the department has $185,897 in savings and is operating in the black, compared to being $313,000 in debt in 2005. The proposed budget for 2014 is $103,744, and Pressler said all but about $5,000 should come from municipal funding.
“I think we’re light years ahead of most municipalities,” he said.
Pressler said he is concerned that will change without the commission. But he said he won’t continue sacrificing his time under the current conditions.
“We’re volunteers, some of us are working,” he said. “It takes time away from our families. Firemen think they are the only ones away from their families. And I think the public out here will lose.”