State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been auditing Pennsylvania Volunteer Firefighters’ Relief Associations (VFRAs), with Lebanon County VFRAs found so far to be almost entirely in compliance.
No issues whatsoever were found with the Lebanon VFRA. Neptune VFRA was found to be in compliance with all state laws except for one minor point—AG DePasquale noted that the organization’s bylaws do not yet address the purchase and sale of investments, which is recommended by the state.
VFRAs are charitable organizations that were formed primarily to afford financial protection for volunteer firefighters and to encourage individuals to participate in volunteer fire service.
These VFRAs receive State aid from a 2% State tax of fire insurance premiums paid by residents to out-of- state insurance companies. In 2018, 2,518 Municipalities received $55.1 million for distribution to VFRAs to provide training, purchase equipment and insurance and pay death benefits for volunteer firefighters. The Auditor General distributes the funds and periodically audits the accounts. The 2019 distribution amount is $59.99 million, about a 5% increase over last year’s amount.
The funds were distributed to municipalities on September 16 and are required to be transferred to VFRAs within 60 days of receipt.
“For the first time since I took office, VFRA funding has increased over the previous year,” said DePasquale in a news release. “The additional funding is good news to volunteer firefighters who have had to weather some hits in state aid over the past few years.”
The amount of money a municipality receives is based on its population and the market value of its real estate.
The laws that determine how VFRA funds are used are very specific and are primarily focused on volunteer firefighters. Numbers of volunteers have dropped considerably in recent years. While many of the VFRAs are sitting with large sums of money in their fund, fire companies and municipalities are forced to rely on taxpayers to maintain adequate protection for the community. Specialized equipment for the fire company, including drones, and financial incentives to keep volunteers on the job, are some of the applications being discussed for these funds.
DePasquale has called on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to consider giving VFRAs greater flexibility. “I want to make sure that the law governing the use of state aid is keeping up with changes in how fire services are provided,” he said in the release.