Newtown Township: Where a Volunteer is Not a Volunteer

Newtown Township uses volunteers' labor contribution as their match to grant money received.

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:

"Hi Paul,    

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?  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John McDevitt January 19, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Who died and made you queen? Is this the same Patti Wilson that profited from 537 and is refuses to acknowledge it? Your headline makes it appear like they were paid. What do you do for this township other than stir the pot for pesonal reasons and completely turn off any citzens that wants to volunteer their time in the best interest of the community. I know Paul and hs is a friend of mine. He is a wonderful man that deeply cares about his community. Have you ever seen the flower baskets throughout the community? I recently called Paul and asked him to help out with the landscaping in front of the hogh school and he jumped all over it. If you are have so unhappy here why don't you just move. What is your point?
The king January 19, 2013 at 03:19 PM
I'm glad paul is a friend of yours. I've seen the flower baskets and they are usually dead. Your comment, Died and made you queen? You represent residents on the school board? Are you educated? We now know why the remainder of the school board OVERlooked you!!! Stirring the pot is a good thing. Look at what happened over at the county in the register of wills office! Why don't you start typing questions as to WHO was the head of the register of wills during the majority of the theft! Too scared?
John McDevitt January 19, 2013 at 03:52 PM
King really? I can see why your fictitious.
Paul Seligson January 19, 2013 at 06:15 PM
Patti, We received two Grants for the planting at Drexel Lodge Park. One from Peco Green Regions for $ 5,000 and the other from Acqua PA TreeVitalize for $ 3,552. CRC is billing Treevitalize for work done. CRC is advancing the dollars and billing Township as they spend into the $ 5,000 amount of Peco Green Regions grant. The two grants satisfied the CASH amounts required by the other. It's standard on all grant applications I have seen to ask for volunteer hours and then cost them out to show Grantor that Grantee (Township) has skin in the game. What game do you have skin in? Paul
C. Higgins January 19, 2013 at 06:47 PM
You should check your facts before you throw stones. Hugh Donahue, Esq is The Register of Wills and has been since January 1, 2007. The county employee began stealing in January, 2007. It didn't happen under the previous Register of Wills.
C. Higgins January 19, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Patti, You were once a respected business woman in Newtown Township. What has happened to you? You are making a fool of yourself and embarrassing your children. We are all tired of your constant criticism and vicious attacks on the Township. You know that this Township is better now than it was in years past. Stop it and move on!! Constructive criticism is welcome. Baseless attacks are not.
Hilda McKenna January 20, 2013 at 02:13 AM
Higgins , Baseless attacks? We don't live in Afghanistan! Criticism is always welcome when you spend taxpayers money! Accountability! The woman who stole 160k from the county? Was that baseless? Maybe if someone criticized or was critical she would have thought twice! No theft occurred under the previous register of wills? What did occur?
Boot Road Resident January 20, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Leave it to Patti to make an issue out of nothing. The Patch must give her a blog quota for her to write something so inconsequential. Instead of criticizing, why don't you commend the people who actually spent time trying to make the township look nice and people who took the time to secure the grants to allow them to do so.
TrickyDicky January 21, 2013 at 02:59 PM
Boot Road Resident- Because Patti's a glass half empty type of person. She must be a joy to live around.
Echo Valley Neighbor January 22, 2013 at 07:52 PM
I am saddened by the vitriol and nonsense between our township residents. Paul works tirelessly for the good of our township. Questioning monies spent is critically important and I agree that this has been lacking over the years; I applaud Patti for her determination. But, in this case I agree with another resident. Paul has spent an inordinate amount of his time searching for funding sources, writing proposals and implementing the awards received-all to make our township a more attractive, vibrant, eco-friendly and viable place in which to live and to enjoy. And the comment about the hanging baskets is just plain mean spirited and childish......
Walt January 22, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Echo Valley Neighbor- While I agree with you on some points, the main objection that many have of Patti is that she is always negative. Compare this with being a parent. If only what you did was tell your kid how much they're screwing up, what kind of kid would you raise? Don't they need positive feedback that would encourage them to do better? Patti needs to be more even-handed with her criticism and approval. Then, many would find her blogs meaningful.
Echo Valley Neighbor January 22, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Walt, I absolutely agree! Adults need the same; as a professional, I have always been able to get the most out of all my various staffs by showing them respect yet being tough, expecting the very best. I love to give compliments and praise along with criticism as needed.


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