A numbers puzzle
After 15 years, memories fuzzy on how association cut determined
Portions of proceeds from sales of tip jars, a form of paper gambling, above, are given to Washington County fire and rescue companies. (Photo illustration by Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer)
In April 1996, in accordance with the county's gaming law, the county government issued its first check — for $124,215.60 — from the fund to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
What happened next is unclear.
The money was divvied up, but how, why and on whose authority?
Now, 15 years later, the answers to those questions hold the key to how much money the association keeps for itself and how much it gives each of its member volunteer fire and rescue companies.
Glenn Fishack, president of the Fire and Rescue Association since 2008, said he thinks association members must have voted years ago on a formula. But what it was, "I'm not sure," he said.
Neither are several other officials in fire and rescue and government. Many who were asked expressed surprise to learn that neither Maryland lawmakers nor, apparently, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, ever approved the formula.
Former Fire and Rescue Association presidents L. Jason Baer and George "Glenn" Fuscsick are certain they know the formula.
Baer thought it was written in Maryland law.
Fuscsick said, he "can't find anything in writing to support the way" the association takes a cut for itself. "We never wanted to ask" who authorized that, for fear lawmakers would take all the money back, he said.
The issue is accountability.
The law, and the split
Here's what is known.
In 1995, then-Gov. Parris Glendening signed into law a measure approved by the Maryland General Assembly and requested by officials of county government and local organizations, including fire and rescue companies, to regulate tip jar gaming here.
Tip jars are the common name for a form of paper gambling involving packets of numbered tickets, some of which win cash prizes.
The law established a county Gaming Commission, which was to administer a new gaming fund. Clubs, restaurants and taverns were required to give the fund a portion of any profits they made from selling tip jars.
The Gaming Commission was required to give 60 percent of the fund to charities and the remaining 40 percent to the association. The 60-40 split had been recommended by a task force of county residents, recruited by Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, who helped shape the legislation.
The law said nothing about what the association was to do with the money or whether it could keep any — or all — of it for itself.
The tip jar profits began flowing to the fund in July 1995. By spring 1996, when the Gaming Commission made its first distributions to charities and to the association, the fund contained $303,010.63, according to commission records.