At a September 2012 Newtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting, Paul Seligson of the township’s Environmental Advisory Committee asked for volunteers to plant trees at Drexel Lodge Park. The installation activity was to be held on October 20, 2012, for the purpose of planting a riparian buffer. He indicated that 28 trees and 45 shrubs would be planted. Additionally, a meadow would be built. Paul indicated that a grant was to pay for these plants.
At a subsequent Newtown Township supervisors meeting, Paul indicated that many volunteers had come to Drexel Lodge and helped with planting the trees. Turns out, in the eyes of Mr. Seligson and the township, these were not volunteers at all.
They were offered as an in-kind contribution for the grant which paid for the trees and other supplies. So, rather than provide dollars or more supplies to fulfill the grant requirements, the environmental advisory committee put a dollar figure on the volunteer labor.
In my view, rather than act in the spirit of the grant and do double the good, the township and its environmental advisory committee used volunteer labor and then claimed an in-kind contribution. Add to this that some of these newly planted trees appear to be in the path of the proposed sewer line in the township’s proposed Act537 plan and those volunteers who participated in this work may be disappointed by the outcome. The invoices for this work as well as the charge for the volunteer labor are provided on the spreadsheet which accompanies this post.
It has been my experience that volunteers do not volunteer for compensation. Nor do they volunteer as a way to allow the township to abdicate a matching grant. If the township had actually matched the grant funds, there could have been more planting of trees and other environmental initiatives could have been accomplished.
I reached out to Paul via email to try and understand the use of the grants--here are my questions and his reply:
Regi and I have been talking about the costs associated with the plantings at Drexel Lodge as a result of her asking about the bill from CRC that was approved for payment and then pulled by Trio(per Kathleen) for $2939.65. I have gone over the spreadsheet of costs and have a couple of questions about it. First, did the volunteers that planted know that you were considering their contribution an "in-kind" contribution? Second, I am very confused as to how you can use a Peco Green Region grant as matching funds for the Tree Vitalize grant given the guidelines that PECO states on its Green Region site. That is:
Grant Amounts and Timing
• Grants will be for amounts up to $10,000 and may be used to pay for up to 50% of eligible activities.
• The municipality, organization, or authority must have a source of funds (or have submitted an application for funds) to match the Green Region grant. Those matching funds shall be in cash, not in-kind services.
• Grants will be awarded once a year; applications (9 complete copies, including 1 unbound in any way, except to be clipped together) must be postmarked no later than the application deadline (see page 1).
• Any recipient will be expected to fully expend the grant within 18 months of its receipt of the funds.
• Retroactive reimbursement for costs accrued between the application deadline and the grant award may be allowed, on a case-by-case basis. All requests for such reimbursement shall be made in writing to the program administrator.
• Recipients may apply for an additional grant once the previous grant is fully expended, but no earlier than two years from the application date of the previous grant."
The Spreadsheet and accompanying invoice says that the Green Region grant was providing the matching funds. It also says that that Match of $2,583 was an in-kind contribution but that doesn't match with the prior number of $2,137 in volunteer labor. Is the $2,583 a different in-kind match? If it is, what was the contribution? This is very confusing and sure does not look to me as if the Green Region Grant Money was expended in the way it was intended. Additionally, there is no mention of the township's required cash match to that grant. I hope that you can clear this up."
And Mr. Seligson's response:
"Patti - re: 'in kind contribution' - at the beginning of each planting, I make opening remarks thanking grantors and making appreciation to the volunteers for making this possible by their participation fulfilling the grant. re: Why is CRC billing Township? I received a check made out to the Township from PECO Green Regions. CRC is advancing the payments for the work done on behalf of $ 5,000 PECO grant. As CRC spends into their advance, they will be billing Township back for it. Re: using different grants to satisfy cash portions is grants - I too questioned this policy and was assured it's kosher . Specifically, I made Brian Vadino at Delaware County Conservation district aware and he confirmed that it is an accepted method of satisfying the cash portion. re: Township cash portion - there was none.They have $ 5,000 which CRC is paying bills out of their own money and billing Township for re: returning your call, I doubt it. Paul"
I wonder if Paul had told volunteers before they showed up to work that they were considered an “in-kind” payment if they would have volunteered? I also wonder why the township is having the CRC advancing payment for bills if the township already has the grant money to pay those bills?
How would you feel if you found out that the good deed you thought you had accomplished was considered an in-kind contribution by the township officials and the township’s environmental advisory committee? As the grantor, how would you feel if the grant you provided was used to provide the matching funds required of another grant?