“If something happens to a company here, we got to take care of them,” said Fishack, who has been association president since 2008.
“I’m tickled to death ... we got a little nest egg. We might need a new roof,” Fishack said.
A nest egg is not at all what Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, had in mind in 1995 when he led others in engineering passage of the gaming law that over the years has brought millions of dollars to the association, its 27 member fire and rescue companies and to local charities.
Told earlier this year — in the midst of a yearlong investigation by The Herald-Mail into fire and rescue funding — what has been happening, Donoghue appeared to be startled.
“Whoa!” he said, when told that the association’s cash and investments balance had, by July 2010, gone as high as $628,842. Parts of it were designated for such uses as a new training center.
“That wasn’t the purpose of this,” Donoghue said. “The purpose of this was to build for charity, and for fire and rescue (companies), not for somebody to build fund balances in case something’s going to happen. You don’t need a bankroll like that.”
Donoghue said the association was supposed to distribute the money to fire and rescue companies, just as the county Gaming Commission does in giving money to local charities.
“Anybody can sue anybody these days, but could the Gaming Commission say, ‘We’re going to set aside a couple hundred thousand dollars in case we get sued?’”
Fast forward to today — and the association’s cash and investment accounts have taken center stage.
On Sept. 20, in the county administration building downtown, Fishack, other association leaders and their attorney sat on one side of a square-shaped cluster of tables.
Donoghue and three other local lawmakers sat along another side. The Washington County Commissioners and some of their staff members sat around the other sides.
Dozens of officers from fire and rescue companies throughout the county packed rows of seats nearby.
The issue was accountability.
Exactly how much money the association has in cash and investments was one of the questions. Another was, for what uses is it being held instead of being distributed to the volunteer companies?
A share of the whole
The 1995 law set up a county fund that collects a portion of the profits that businesses and private clubs earn from selling tip jars, a form of paper gambling.
For the first few years, the association was given 40 percent of the fund and charities got 60 percent. Since fiscal 2001, charities — chosen by the gaming commission — and the association split the fund 50-50.