Tonawanda News

December 9, 2012

Soccer club explains stipends

By Neale Gulley and Eric DuVall, newsroom@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The monthly gathering of the Northtowns Soccer Club on Oct. 12 started out routinely enough: Approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, acceptance of the treasurer’s report, details on ordering new team uniforms.

But the session became anything but cut-and-dried when talk moved to new business and a club official talked openly about fees paid to some board members and how this might create a potential problem for the non-profit, all-volunteer organization with the Internal Revenue Service.

Then, a month later, an item about the meeting appeared in the Tonawanda News’ reader “Sound Off” opinion column claiming Frank Huber, the club’s workhorse vice president, was receiving $4 of every $120 player registration fee and that other club officials “also benefited financially.”

The item was signed, “concerned coach.”

The Northtowns Soccer Club, founded in the 1970s to promote youth soccer in Western New York, suddenly was caught up in a controversy nobody expected or wanted to talk about.

But an inquiry by The News into the club finances — including fees paid to club officials, and a review of the organization’s 990 federal tax-exempt forms for 2008, 2009 and 2010 — moved club officials to explain the club’s fiscal affairs and why no one need be alarmed.

Club President Jerry Sullivan confirmed that Huber received $4 from each player’s participation fee because he handled the time-consuming tasks of registering players and coaches, scheduling soccer games and maintaining the organization’s website, among other things.

He said Huber received about $25,000, largely to cover expenses — not the $50,000 mentioned in the “Sound Off” item — over the eight years he served as the club’s vice president of house before stepping down from the position at the October meeting.

Sullivan said the per player stipend to the vice president of house began when Huber assumed the hybrid role within the group, at a time when committed members were in short supply.

“Because I had no one to take over the administration. It was a colossal job and he transformed everything into the electronic world, and eliminated all the paperwork,” he said.

He said the club official who scheduled referees received a payment of about $30 per week, and there were token stipends to coaches for conducting workshops and paid coaches and others who had received certification as athletic trainers.

Sullivan acknowledged that while the stipends amounted to only a few thousand dollars, they were not specifically reported as compensation to club officials on the organization’s annual report filed with the IRS. Nor were 1099 income report forms issued to Huber or others who were paid $600 or more during the year — as required by the IRS.

Sullivan described the club’s action as unintentional omissions, and said efforts were underway to correct the club’s tax-exempt records.

Huber declined to comment about the stipends he received when contacted by The News, referring a reporter to Sullivan.

But Al Caruso, a founder of the soccer club who is no longer active in day-to-day operations, joined Sullivan in supporting Huber, dismissing concerns over his stipend for organizational duties.

”I wouldn’t do it for $4,000 a year,” Caruso said. “It’s a pain in the neck.”

Caruso estimated when he ran the league, the person in Huber’s job put in about 20 hours per week, making it difficult to keep the position filled because of the low payment for the amount of work involved.

The next monthly meeting of the Northtowns Soccer Club is Thursday. Sullivan said he would discuss the matter directly with the membership then.