Pitcairn fire chiefs ask for 1-mill fire tax

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Citing a decline in donations, Pitcairn firefighters are asking borough council to raise taxes to help fund firefighting efforts.

Firefighters last week asked officials to consider increasing the borough's property-tax rate by 1 mill — from 5.75 to 6.75 mills.

With the increase, the owner of a property assessed at $35,000 — which is the median assessment in the borough — would pay an extra $35 a year.

The proposed 1-mill increase would generate a total of about $64,000 for the two fire companies and would ensure a much-needed consistent revenue stream, firefighters said.

“I mean, we have bingo, and (Company 2) has their fundraising, and it just doesn't pull the weight that it used to get back in the day,” Company 1 fire Chief Tom Dick told borough officials last month.

Company 2 fire Chief Brian Spudy suggested the money could be split down the middle between the two fire companies.

This year, the borough is providing about $70,000 to the two fire companies for line-item expenses that include utilities and auto insurance, borough manager Malisa Migliori said.

The borough also is paying about $18,000 toward workers compensation, which is state mandated, Council President John Prucnal said.

There also is the occasional cost of repairs at one fire-company building that the borough owns, Migliori said.

Borough officials were scheduled to meet with both fire companies to discuss the proposal Wednesday, after this paper's deadline.

Officials in a number of communities in Allegheny County, including Hampton and North Versailles, have implemented a fire tax.

At least 12 communities in Westmoreland County also have the tax, ranging from half of a mill to 2 mills.

Spudy suggested that in Pitcairn, a fire tax could replace a substantial amount of funding the borough currently provides.

“The only requirement from (the borough), is when the alarm goes out, you are responsible for workmen's compensation,” Spudy said.

“Other than that, we're on our own.”

Company 1 Assistant Chief George Toth said that he'd like to see the tax implemented as soon as this year.

Currently, the owner of a $35,000 home pays $201 to the municipality in property taxes.

One of the issues unique to Pitcairn is a substantial number of people who rent, rather than own, Council Member John Bova said.

“Tenants, themselves, would wind up contributing nothing to this fee,” Bova said.

“That's patently unfair to me.”

Bova said he planned to discuss with the borough solicitor the potential of spreading a residential fire fee more evenly among all of the residents.

At Company 1, the utilities and workers compensation are funded by the borough, but the fire company is responsible for the rest, Dick said.

“Just like anybody's home, you're always maintaining the building,” he said.

“We've already replaced parts of the roof, we've had to put a new furnace and air conditioning in over the last couple of years. It becomes a cost, especially now that the building's 30 years old.”

Company 2 received a $144,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant this year that helped the department, “but other than that, we've skimped for everything,” Spudy said.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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