The Snow Shoe Volunteer Fire Company’s social club closed in April, but a battle over reopening the club has made its way to court.
Centre County fire companies are funded through municipal taxes and state grants, but they also rely on community fundraisers and social clubs. The Snow Shoe Fire Company lost one of those resources when its social club closed due to mounting bills and not enough income.
“Times have changed. You don’t have the number of people going to clubs anymore like you used to up here,” Don Morgan, a trustee of the fire company, said in May.
Years ago, he said the club’s general fund brought in enough money to pay the company’s utility bills.
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“We’re trying to reopen to help support the fire company and to provide a social gathering place for the community,” Morgan said.
Morgan and the proposal to reopen the social club, however, have been opposed by three members of the fire company. President Thomas Moore, Fire Chief Beau Martin and Treasurer Nichole McClellan filed a lawsuit in June arguing that reopening the social club isn’t in the company’s best interest.
The lawsuit accuses the club of siphoning off resources for social events, freezing out firefighters to gain control of the company, placing firefighters at “great risk” and said about 400 social club members have a vote, even though they’re not part of, or interested in, the company’s mission.
The trio also said the social club is financially unstable and voted to reactivate its Liquor Control Board license, thus renewing a business plan that failed previously.
“The Fireman’s Club in its current controlling, governing configuration freezes out firefighters and diverts the allocation of very scarce financial resources to non-fire company services,” the lawsuit said.
Moore, Martin and McClellan appeared before Judge Jonathan Grine on Tuesday, along with Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael Foerster. Members of the social club were also in attendance.
Foerster and the AG’s office became involved because the lawsuit listed the office as an involuntary petitioner. Grine dismissed the AG’s office from the case, but Foerster offered to work on the case for 60 days to try and find an amicable solution.
The legal complexities don’t end there, however.
The social club is recognized as a corporation, not an individual, which means the club is legally required to be represented by an attorney.
Morgan, however, said a Snow Shoe Township resolution prohibits the company from using funds from any of their accounts to hire an attorney.
The resolution references the township fire tax and said it is only to be used for the company’s corporate mission.
“It has come to our attention the Snow Shoe Volunteer Fire Company is taking steps and using fire company funds to continue to maintain a ... liquor license and social club which has not been self-supporting,” the resolution said. “If the Snow Shoe Volunteer Fire Company uses any fire company funds for the support of its social club, LCB license or any efforts to support the social club — including legal fees — the township will initiate appropriate steps to reduce or eliminate the fire tax.”
With the AG’s proposal on the table, Grine stayed the proceedings for 60 days and temporarily suspended the social club’s spending.