Mt. Pleasant Township firefighters seek public's support for fire levy
By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Mt. Pleasant Township firefighters pitched to the public on Tuesday their idea for an annual fee to help fund fire stations under the message that fire service is dangerous and “safety is not free.”
More than 50 people attended the meeting at Norvelt Fire Department.
Township firefighters, part of the Mt. Pleasant Township Emergency Services Association, want the township to consider a levy of a 1-mill or 1.5-mills, which would be split evenly among the fire departments.
A levy of 1-mill would generate $96,000.
Eleven municipalities in Westmoreland County impose similar levies, often called “fire equipment and firehouse” taxes.
Don Hill, chief of the township's Trauger station, has said the goal of the fee is to improve fire equipment and fire stations, as well as to offer fire training.
Mt. Pleasant firefighters have said that interest in volunteer fire department fundraisers has waned in the poor economy, while costs for fire engines and other equipment have exploded.
The township is home to five volunteer fire departments: Calumet, Hecla, Kecksburg, Norvelt and Trauger.
Township supervisors would have to vote on the levy, and Hill said he hopes that they'll consider it.
Kim Houser, a Greensburg-based attorney and a volunteer firefighter, showed at the meeting a presentation about the costs of firefighting.
“You have old equipment,” Houser said. “Unfortunately, these guys need to get some assistance by asking for a fire tax. I don't know how else to get around it. They already do donations. … Folks, you need to have new fire engines somehow. Obviously the amount of money that is being allocated right now is not working.”
A fire engine costs $375,000, plus a $15,000 fire hose. Battling a structure fire takes 15 firefighters and costs at least $200,000, Houser said.
“Fire service in Mt. Pleasant township is dangerous. ... safety isn't free,” Houser said. “They need a funding source. You can't get fire trucks by selling hoagies and spaghetti dinners. You just can't do it.
“So it's a plea.”
Hill said fire crews are asking for residents to pay a portion of the departments' costs.
“The demands for us to raise funds and do the training and do everything we need to do to keep this place solvent and viable just aren't there anymore,” Hill said.
Some residents expressed concerns about the cost to senior citizens who may not be able to afford another expense.
“We're in a community right now that (has) a lot of seniors. They're stretched to the limit,” said township resident Jeffery Dezwaan. “Does it go up next year? The year after? How many more taxes are we going to get?”
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646.
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