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Merger talk has Baldwin firefighters on edge

Former fire chief enters guilty plea

Former Becks Run Independent Fire Company Chief Leonard Lee Novak pleaded guilty on June 25 in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on charges of theft by deception, unlawful use of computers and forgery.

Novak, 49, was sentenced to a minimum of seven years probation. He also must pay $24,580 in restitution to Baldwin Borough Firefighters Relief Association, which disburses state funds benefitting the volunteer fire department.

Charges of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, unlawful use of computer, forgery, theft by failing to make required disposition of funds, tampering with evidence, tampering with records and conspiracy were withdrawn.

Police had said that Novak and former Becks Run assistant Chief Stephen Bonetti, 44, stole funds from the firefighters group over a five-year period. Bonetti is due in Common Pleas Court on July 9 for a non-jury trial.

Novak also is required to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation, court records show.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

A consolidation of Baldwin Borough southern fire companies could move forward in the next year, provided one company's actions in court does not halt the plan, leaders say.

Baldwin Borough officials long have discussed a consolidation of services between the municipality's fire companies, borough Manager John Barrett said. The move would reduce duplication of equipment and facilities expenses, increase the number of volunteers responding to a call and streamline training, he said.

Discussions to merge fire companies – creating two stations, located in the north and south ends of the borough – moved quicker when two heads of Becks Run Independent Fire Company were charged with theft last year and borough officials voted to decertify the station, Barrett said.

Officials then agreed to look at merging South Baldwin and Option Independent, building a station centrally located between the two and creating a southern fire district, he said. Baldwin No. 1, then, would serve as the northern district.

“It just makes sense from an operating standpoint,” Barrett said.

Yet, leaders of Option Independent Fire Company say the move planned by borough officials would jeopardize public safety, by increasing response times, and are opposing the merger with South Baldwin and borough officials plans to build a centrally located station on Brownsville Road.

Discussions between borough officials have become heated during the past several months and rumors have begun to spread that Option will be closed, just like Becks Run, within the next few months, said Nancy Barylak, Option vice president.

“The borough wants us closed,” Barylak told the more than 50 residents that attended a meeting held by the fire company last week, asking borough officials to keep Option open.

“We believe as firefighters, as the ones getting on the trucks 24/7, that the response times could be lengthened,” Barylak said. “We're very concerned that things are shaping up very soon.'”

Residents at the meeting expressed concern at the thought of Option closing or their local fire station possibly moving farther away from their homes.

“It's all about politics,” said Baldwin Borough resident Larry Depretis, 57. “It's alarming to hear this. They want us to think that they're doing the right thing for this borough by having less fire companies. ... To eliminate this fire company I thing would cause a lot of problems.”

Baldwin Borough Mayor Alexander Bennett said there are no plans to close any of the municipality's three fire stations.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “We're looking to better serve the public.”

“The plan is looking out for all of the residents of Baldwin,” emergency management coordinator Ken Guerra said.

Baldwin officials last year filed a motion in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Orphan's Division seeking a distribution of the assets from Becks Run, following its closure, to the borough's three other fire companies.

Chiefs from all three fire companies met with borough officials and discussed what should happen to the assets, including the nearly $206,000, the trucks and building, Barrett said.

All appeared to be in agreement until a motion was filed in the courts by Option and Becks Run to merge their assets.

Barylak said that Option leaders were “caught off guard” when they were approached by Becks Run leaders asking to merge assets for the two companies. She said that Option is not trying to be selfish by seeking a merger of assets.

“Whatever we don't want, we'll give to the other stations,” she said.

Barrett said that Option's motion to merge assets with Becks Run created a trust issue with the other fire companies. A judge in Orphan's Court on Monday said he likely will make a decision on the case this fall, Barrett said.

Borough officials have moved forward to create north and south districts.

Option and South Baldwin are in the south district, which is being led by South Baldwin Chief Joe Cambest. Baldwin No. 1 is in the north district, led by Baldwin No. 1 Chief Mike Krantz, Guerra said.

If the assets are divided, borough leaders said a plan is in place to use the funds, plus money from the possible sale of South Baldwin and Options fire stations to purchase property along Brownsville Road to build a new station. A new station also would be built for Baldwin No. 1 on Churchview Avenue, leaders said.

Cooperation would be needed from all parties for this plan to move forward, Barrett said. South Baldwin President Chad Hurka said his fire station is on board.

“I don't know why they're fighting it,” Guerra said of Option leaders. “They act like we're moving them to Siberia.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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