Consultant hopes to unravel a mystery for Carnegie Borough
Nick Sohyda has witnessed much of the friction between Carnegie Borough Council and the Carnegie Volunteer Fire and Rescue Bureau from afar.
Now, he'll get a closer look as he endeavors to address some of the troubling issues.
Council voted at its March 11 meeting to hire Sohyda, Mt. Lebanon's fire chief for the past seven years, as a consultant for the borough's fire department. Sohyda will be paid $50 an hour for his services.
“I think everybody has the same main goal, and that's to make sure we maintain a viable volunteer fire department in Carnegie,” he said. “The last thing that I think council would want to see is the volunteers either be decertified, or quit or decertify. The best thing for the residents of Carnegie is to have a good volunteer fire department.”
Fire department attorney Dan DeMarco said borough officials didn't consult with the fire department before hiring Sohyda.
“They were certainly shocked that council would do such a thing without any type of discussion or consultation with the fire department,” DeMarco said. “They're very frustrated with what's going on because they're doing a tremendous amount to cooperate and to satisfy inquiries that the borough council has had regarding the fire department.”
DeMarco and council held heated discussions about finances at the December and February council meetings.
Council last year hired a bookkeeper to handle the department's finances. The borough provides the department with $142,000 each year, plus money for truck payments, workers compensation and gasoline.
DeMarco said the department needs money for major capital improvements in equipment in the coming years.
One such purchase would be a new aerial truck to replace the current one, which was damaged when Hurricane Ivan flooded Carnegie in 2004. Council President Rick D'Loss said the truck would cost more than $1 million.
DeMarco said the department needs a new truck to improve Carnegie's federal Insurance Services Office Inc. rating, which looks at a fire district's ability to respond to structure fires and affects residents' insurance rates. Carnegie's current ISO rating is 6. The highest possible rating is a 1.
“It's a difficult decision, certainly, but the borough needs to do something,” DeMarco said.
Capital expenditures aren't the only prickly financial issue. Councilman Robert Veres voted against paying the department's $8,000 monthly mortgage at the January, February and March meetings because the fire department holds the title to the building.“Not only are we paying for them, they own the building,” Veres said.
Councilman Pat Catena joined Veres in voting against the mortgage payment at the March 11 meeting because the borough's emergency medical service also is listed on the mortgage. Fire Chief John Kandracs also directs the EMS.
Catena, Veres and Mike Sarsfield voted against paying DeMarco's fee for March, which resulted in a 3-3 tie. Mayor Jack Kobistek broke the tie and approved the $1,211 payment because of the fire department's limited funds.
“I've been dealing with the fire department and trying to move forward for the past six years,” Sarsfield said. “I think tonight we begin to correct ourselves and correct the matters at hand.”
Veres said the major reason to bring in Sohyda as a consultant was because officials have “too many unanswered questions.”
Sohyda is a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development's Governor's Center for Local Government Services and Delta Development Group. Mt. Lebanon is one of 173 fire service agencies in the U.S. and Canada to have accredited agency status.
In Carnegie, he will be tasked with helping shape an ordinance that will more clearly define the fire department's and borough officials' expectations for each other. Catena said the hope is to pass the ordinance within 30 days.
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.