T he Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company wants to have a coin drop and is hoping the village will allow them to do so.
WVFC president Brian Brooks asked the village to give the department permission to host the fundraiser, which have been banned in Whitehall since three American Legion members were arrested for holding such an event last year.
The village has asked its’ attorney and state assemblyman Tony Jordan to look into the legality of such an event and have asked the state comptroller for a written opinion on the matter.
They are withholding a final decision until they hear from Jordan.
Brooks in the meanwhile has contacted several legal experts and examined case law that he contends validates the legality of coin drops.
In a letter to the village board, Brooks wrote, “I have not found one single case law that would prohibit a coin drop within a village. I have found more that would support the solicitation on state highways within villages.”
According to New York State vehicle and traffic law, it is illegal for a person to stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride, or to solicit from or sell to an occupant of any vehicle.
Brooks, however, contends that there is a provision in the law that makes a coin drop within the village legal.
“The law states that no person can be on a state highway, except in a city or village, for the purpose of selling or soliciting.”
Brooks argues that since this part of the law goes the additional step of identifying parties that are exempt from the law, then it is available for a city or village government to review, meaning they would have the final say whether the department could host a coin drop.
Brooks also spoke with David Garwood of Sciccchintano & Pinsky, PLLC of Syracuse, a law firm specializing in fire department law, who agreed with him that coin drops are legal.
But Jordan told Brooks that the answer isn’t always clear and that the village has asked him to resolve the situation.
Mayor Peter Telisky has also expressed concern over the liability of the village if someone were to be harmed during a coin drop, but Brooks said he believes the village wouldn’t be held liable and that any injury that occurred to a participating firefighter would be covered by the Volunteer Firemen’s Benefit Law.
“How is a coin drop different from the village digging to repair a leak and restricting the flow of traffic, or the police department doing a road check of inspection and registration stickers,” Brooks said. “They village is concerned but have never worried about the liability of parade participants riding on floats without car seats or other safety devices.”
The Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company, and several other local organizations used to hold coin drops on an annual basis but that changed after three men were arrested for holding a coin drop last year on Veterans Day.
Whitehall Police received a report of American Legion members obstructing traffic and arrested the men.
Charges against the men were dropped earlier this spring but police chief Matthew Dickinson said the department would continue to enforce the law.
Brooks said coin drops are an important part of the fire department’s fundraising activities.
The department raised more than $5,000 during its Labor Day coin drop last year, money it used toward the purchase of a set of rescue jacks.
And with several ongoing projects and the eventually addition of the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company, Brooks said the department is going to need money this year and coin drops are the best way to acquire those funds.
“Local government doesn’t have the money to bail us out if we fall behind.”