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North Apollo residents appear to support $80 fire fee

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
 

North Apollo firefighters made their case to the public for why residents should pay an annual fee to support their volunteer department, and didn't find much opposition.

About 40 residents attended a special meeting borough council held at the fire hall Wednesday to get people's input on a proposed fire protection service fee.

After about two hours of questions and comments, Council President Gene Burns said he went away feeling residents are supportive of the fee, even if paying it might prove difficult.

“It looks like the town wants to support the fire hall,” he said, adding that support is not without conditions and concerns. “They want to know how the money is being spent. They want to make sure it's not being wasted.”

Council voted to have an ordinance written. It could be available for public review in March, and council could vote on enacting the fee as early as April.

As discussed, it would be an $80 annual fee on all borough households.

Like other fees, those who don't pay would be taken to the district judge, Burns said.

Businesses would be charged $160. Businesses would pay more, in part, to cover money lost from homeowners who don't pay, Councilman Ed Barclay said.

If approved, the fee would be collected this year.

The borough now gives the fire department $15,000 annually.

If the fee is enacted, this would be the last year that donation would be made.

Burns said the $15,000 would remain in the borough's budget and be saved for fire department use, if needed.

Firefighters asked the borough for help.

They have said the department could fold in a year without the support.

Fire Chief Jason Burns said the meeting went better than firefighters expected. A resident's statement that firefighters are appreciated was met with applause.

Jason Burns and department Vice President Jim Barclay attempted to spell out how much running a volunteer fire department costs, and the challenges firefighters face in keeping it operating.

“People have their concerns,” Jason Burns said. “We had our concerns going to the borough.”

At $80 for homeowners, the fee breaks down to about $6.66 per month.

“It's less than what you pay to throw garbage away,” Assistant Fire Chief Chris Kerr said.

Residents questioned firefighters on their fundraising and grant-writing efforts, suggesting both could produce more.

Debbie Stankus said firefighters could do more to promote themselves online, including social media. Ed Hall said more money could be made from fundraisers.

Barclay invited residents to join as social members to help with fundraising. Even with the fee, firefighters have said they would continue fundraising efforts.

Having the borough continue the $15,000 donation was suggested as a way to reduce the fee.

There was also a suggestion to collect it quarterly.

Gene Burns said council's idea now is to assess the fee in one payment.

Some were concerned with businesses being charged more, especially smaller businesses that may be struggling.

“We don't want to drive businesses out of town,” one woman said.

On accountability, Solicitor Anthony Urti said the department's books would be open to the borough for inspection.

Bill Beck, a borough employee, said that although $80 may be tough to swallow, he put it against the value of a family's home.

“Is your house not worthy of $6.66 a month? I know mine is,” Beck said. “If your house isn't worth $6.66, you need to move.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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