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Hollidaysburg releases money for fire company

Despite watchdog objection, borough reimburses Phoenix for expenditures

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Hollidaysburg Borough Council approved the release of $27,590 to the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company as reimbursement for expenditures from the beginning of the year through July 5, although the community watchdog group disagreed with the decision.

Council members unanimously agreed that the release of the funds would be contingent on Borough Business Manager James Gehret’s receipt and review of financial data such as the department’s transaction history, copies of invoices and its insurance package dating back to January 2019.

“It’s not just your receipt of those things, it’s your satisfactory review of them,” Councilmember Sean Burke told Gehret during Thursday’s council meeting.

Burke made the motion to release the funds under those conditions, which Councilmember Brady Leahey seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Hollidaysburg Community Watchdog member Richard Latker voiced his displeasure over the release of funds being on the agenda.

“If you’re going to fund them now, that means you must have at least all taxpayer expenditures accounted for 2019, 2020 and 2021,” Latker said. “If you don’t, you are once again breaking Title 8, Section 1202 and Section 56. If you intend to break this law again, the consequences will be swift, significant and severe.”

The watchdog group has often voiced concerns over the fire company’s operations after its then-chief Anthony Dibona pleaded guilty in 2021 to embezzling government funds and filing false income tax returns stemming from his involvement in a grant program designed to attract new firefighters in Blair and Bedford counties.

Also during public comment, Hollidaysburg resident Jim Fitch voiced his concerns about the borough’s police department.

Fitch said he noticed the postings for the police officers and that the council had four candidates available, but didn’t understand why they weren’t on the agenda to be discussed.

“We gotta get ourselves into the position to protect ourselves,” Fitch said. “Public safety is what we’re talking about. I think we need to do that and we need to do it quickly.”

The council approved the hire of one police officer during a special meeting last week, but another officer position remains vacant — as well as the police chief position. Council has been advertising for a police chief since the retirement of Chief Rodney Estep Jr. in October 2021, Mirror records show.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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