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Groton - The U.S. Submarine Veterans Groton Base has named a new commander to serve the remainder of former Cmdr. John Carcioppolo's two-year term, is cooperating with its national organization and has recovered some of its autonomy.
Last year the national organization, the U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc., investigated the Groton Subvets base, which includes a clubhouse with a bar. The investigation came after Carcioppolo mailed letters to Subvets members, including National Cmdr. T. Michael Bircumshaw, asking for tax-deductible donations totaling $15,000 to go toward back taxes and penalties.
Subvets exists as a gathering place for submariners to share stories and engage in projects to perpetuate the memory of their shipmates who gave their lives while serving their country. The Groton base, which was the founding base that spawned the national organization, is the only one with a clubhouse and bar.
The local base owed back taxes because it had not been properly withholding payroll taxes for clubhouse employees since 2009. The request for tax-deductible donations raised a red flag with the national organization because, Bircumshaw told The Day last year, the Groton base had claimed for years that the clubhouse and bar at 40 School St. were operating as a corporation, separate from the tax-exempt veterans' organization.
"If it was not part of the USSVI, it wasn't tax-deductible," Bircumshaw said on Thursday.
An investigation followed, during which it became clear that the clubhouse and bar were in fact owned by the national organization and that USSVI and other bases could be liable for the payroll taxes and penalties incurred by Groton.
Carcioppolo resigned and the $30,000 that had been raised from his letter went to back taxes, penalties, lawyer fees and clubhouse bills.The national organization began to closely supervise the clubhouse and bar, its liability insurance, its liquor license and accounting system, Bircumshaw said.
"They came in, stepped in and restructured, I guess you might say," said Alvin G. Kinsall, who became commander of the Groton base Monday. "They put their foot down and said they were going to maintain a very strong hand on it."
Kinsall became commander after Stanley W. Mathis of Groton stepped down to spend more time with his family and focus on his work. Mathis had been vice commander and had moved into the role of commander when Carcioppolo resigned last summer.
Kinsall said the Groton base regained some autonomy after a memorandum of understanding was signed in March. The memorandum states that the two groups will work together to "operate and maintain" the clubhouse and that the MOU will remain in effect as long as Groton base and the USSVI exist.
Now, the 1,800-member Groton base has responsibilities for the clubhouse such as paying for and maintaining utilities and repairs, maintaining liability insurance, managing financial records for all unrelated income generated from the clubhouse and bar and paying all federal, state and local taxes.
"So we are being very liberal and generous in trusting them and allowing them to run this business that we are responsible for," Bircumshaw said.
USSVI remains the deeded owner of the clubhouse property and the backer of the bar's liquor license.
"Should the bar no longer be profitable, I hope the intelligence of the Groton base will be to shut it down," Bircumshaw said. "They don't really have an option. This is not something that can be turned into one of our charitable efforts."
New Treasurer Mike Munhall said the Groton base is currently using updated accounting software and that USSVI has access to it any time. The Groton base and USSVI have each hired independent certified public accountants to review tax returns, Bircumshaw said.
During USSVI's investigation of the Groton base, the disciplinary committee found cash stashed in paper bags and past receipts in plastic bags.
Munhall has done a fine job, Bircumshaw said. "He is the guy who ended up getting it dumped on him and he is the guy who got it squared away," he said.
Carcioppolo is still a member of the Groton base but can't serve as an officer, chairman or vice chairman of a committee.
"I know things are better, but I am not really involved with it anymore so I wouldn't be the right one to talk to here," he said on Thursday.
Kinsall, the new commander, said his priority is to build financial stability for the Groton base.
"We have to start looking at new ways to raise non-due revenues or raise dues," he said. Dues are currently $15 a year, but many of the members are older and are on a fixed income, he said.
The base's annual operating budget is about $200,000, but the bar and the base are just breaking even, Kinsall said.
He said he would like to raise an additional $60,000 to $90,000 annually from wine tastings and other events to repair the inside of the clubhouse. Currently the clubhouse could use new carpets, fumigation to remove the smell of nicotine - although people can still smoke inside - and new "smoke eaters" that draw out smoke, Kinsall said.
If club members raise the money, they won't have to defer maintenance or community programs such as their annual Thanksgiving dinner, at which they feed hundreds of people. Last year, the group fed almost 900 people, including active-duty submariners, Subvets and Subvets' families. Kinsall said he will appoint a committee to design a strategic plan to examine where the club wants or needs to be in the future.
Changes Bircumshaw would still like to see include reducing management at the Groton base, adding another treasurer so there are two sets of eyes on the books and changing titles in the organization to traditional titles such as president instead of commander.
"We need to get the base healed, we need to come together and there needs to be some adjustments made in the management structure," Bircumshaw said.
Both Kinsall and Bircumshaw said they want more members and want people to learn about the Subvets' charitable activities such as Kap(SS) 4 Kid(SS), a program in which Subvets visit and comfort kids in hospitals.
"We are doing good things, and we need more people to help us," Bircumshaw said.
Number of members in USSVI: 13,200
Number of members in Groton Subvets: 1,800
Year the Groton base was founded: 1964
Year USSVI went national: 1968