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North Apollo adopts services fee to support fire department

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

North Apollo property owners will start paying this year to support the borough's volunteer fire department.

The fee is $80 per year for homes and businesses, and $40 per apartment.

At the same time, council is attempting to kill the library tax.

Council voted 3-0 Monday to enact the fire protection services fee. Councilman Tom Newton, a life member of the North Apollo Volunteer Fire Department, abstained from the vote. Councilman Ed Hall was absent.

This year only, the fee will be billed on May 1, according to the ordinance. In future years, it will be billed on Jan. 1.

Payments are due within 60 days, after which it is considered delinquent and a $10 penalty is added. Penalties can accumulate up to a maximum of $100, plus costs of collection.

Firefighters asked borough leaders to enact the fee, saying the department was in danger of folding within a year.

Under the ordinance, the fire department will have to provide a report by Jan. 30 each year detailing how the money was spent in the prior year. The borough will be able to audit the department's accounts that received money from the fee.

Fire department Vice President Jim Barclay said he was pleased council approved the fee.

“We understand the department will be scrutinized over it and looked at under a microscope,” he said. “Now we have a cushion. If an engine needs repaired, the money will be there to pay for it.”

The fee was not approved without opposition.

Resident Ed Kennedy said it should have been voted down, calling it “unethical” and an “end-run” around property taxes.

“This mandatory fee is bad,” he said. “It should not be done.”

Kennedy said he doubted the fee would survive a court challenge, and that he's considering filing one.

“If it gets challenged, it will be overturned,” Kennedy said.

Council President Gene Burns was unmoved.

“I can go home at night and sleep because I know I did the right thing,” he said.

Barclay said he hopes what his department has done paves the way for others to go to their municipalities and do the same.

“Hopefully, it's a gateway to departments that are struggling,” he said.

Library tax targeted

The dedicated property tax supporting the Apollo Memorial Library is again in North Apollo Council's cross hairs.

About a month after deciding to leave the tax alone, council voted 4-0 Monday to pursue putting a referendum before voters to rescind it.

Council voted after Councilman Ed Barclay said he wanted to revisit the issue.

“I want to look at that. I think there's some anger about that,” Barclay said.

Burns said he was surprised Barclay brought it up.

Burns had previously said council was considering rescinding the 0.75-mill tax because council believed it could spend the money better.

The tax generated about $13,300 last year.

But council decided to let the tax be after learning that its proceeds can only go to the library.

Voters approved the library tax in referendums twice, in 2001 and 2002.

Solicitor Anthony Urti said November would be the earliest a referendum could be put before voters. Petition signatures would have to be collected; how many would be needed is not yet known, Urti said.

Rescinding the library tax would make the new fee for the fire department “a wash,” Barclay said.

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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