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South Lockport holds fundraiser as dispute with town festers

LOCKPORT – The South Lockport Fire Company, which is seeking an increase in funding from the Town of Lockport, is holding a major fundraiser at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport.

A Beatlemania show, with four musicians who re-create the sound and style of the Beatles, will take the stage. The funds raised will be used for firefighter recruitment, company president Scott Monkelbaan said.

South Lockport, which has 53 active members, is one of five fire companies serving parts of the town, but it’s the only one that balked at a town contract to give the companies 3 percent annual increases in their town stipends over each of the next five years.

When South Lockport asked for more money, Town Supervisor Mark C. Crocker responded with a request that the fire company submit to an outside audit of its financial records.

The request was agreed to, but it seems to have opened a rift between the fire company and the town government.

Last week, Monkelbaan told The Buffalo News that the audit was nearly done and showed the fire company had run in the red for 2015 by $56,000. “We take that hit every year,” he said.

However. Crocker said the town has received none of the data it was promised in a Nov. 16 meeting between town and fire company officials with John Schiavone of Lumsden & McCormick, the town’s auditing firm.

Crocker said he was concerned about the lack of communication.

Monkelbaan objected that none of the other fire companies were audited. Crocker said, “If anybody steps up and wants more public funds, they’d be audited, too.”

Monkelbaan said South Lockport is concerned that financial shortfalls might endanger its mission. “Last year, we had to put a freeze on new membership because we didn’t have the money to equip them,” Monkelbaan said.

South Lockport’s 2016 payment from the town is to be $369,297, but the town held out the possibility the figure might be increased depending on the results of the audit.

“We put the town on notice that we can’t operate this way,” Monkelbaan said. In 2014, the fire company bought a new ladder truck for a price he said was between $750,000 and $1 million, because of the reopening of the five-story Mount View Health Facility as an assisted living center.

“If something happens to a truck, we’ll have to take that truck out of service,” Monkelbaan contended. If that happens, there could be an impact on town residents’ fire insurance rates, he said.

The fire company’s 2013 financial report to the Internal Revenue Service, called a Form 990, is available on the Internet and shows that in that year, the most recent for which the form has been filed, South Lockport ran an operating surplus of $48,873.

The fire company had $1.05 million more in assets than liabilities, but most of the assets were tied to the value of its buildings, land and equipment. However, the record did show that as of the end of 2013, South Lockport had nearly $300,000 in cash on hand.

Tickets for the Beatlemania show are $17 and are available at the Palace, Spalding Hardware and Mills Jewelers in Lockport.

“As we get closer to our negotiations, all our fundraisers are for firefighter recruitment,” Monkelbaan said. He said the regulations of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York prohibit fire companies from paying their bills through public fundraising.