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Connellsville residents concerned too much money going to VFD

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 7:09 a.m.

Connellsville residents expressed their opinions about how the city should spend its 2013 Community Development Block Grant money during a public hearing Wednesday.

Residents said they were concerned the city was planning to allocate a total of $170,000 to New Haven Hose Company for the purchase of two new fire trucks when other serious safety issues are facing the city.

“What is the city going to do if it allocates $170,000 to the New Haven Hose Company and then one of the buildings collapses in the city?” asked Aaron Zolbrod, a candidate for city council in the November election.

Zolbrod said he is especially concerned about the dilapidated former WCVI building on West Crawford Avenue.

“That building is a safety hazard,” Zolbrod said. “What if the building falls down and the city has to clean up the mess? Where is the city going to get the money?”

Zolbrod said he supports the New Haven Hose Company and commended volunteer firefighters for the excellent work they do, but he was opposed to council allocating $170,000 in CDBG money for the fire company to purchase two fire trucks. One of the fire trucks could cost more than $500,000.

“I don't think the city should be spending the majority of its CDBG money on fire trucks when the city has many other safety issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “The conditions of the roads near the hospital are in deployable condition. That is also a safety issue. We have so many residential structures that need to be demolished in the city. Where is the city going to get the money for that?”

Zolbrod also criticized Mayor Charles Matthews for agreeing to allocate money to New Haven Hose Company because the mayor has been a member of New Haven for almost 30 years.

“I talked to fire Chief Bob Topper, and he told me that New Haven Hose Company didn't even ask for this money,” Zolbrod said. “Why is the city giving money to the fire department when it didn't even request it? This doesn't make any sense.”

Zolbrod said the city has allocated $631,622 to the New Haven Hose Company in the past four years. The CDBG funding includes $41,000 in 2010; $75,000 in 2011; $80,000 in 2012; and $170,000 in 2013. During the same time period, the New Haven Hose Company also received $106,622 in firefighter relief funding; $59,000 in city donations; and $100,000 in fuel and insurance payments made by the city.

“I don't think it was that much money,” Matthews said. “That seems like it's too much. But the city has supported the New Haven Hose Company. The city doesn't have a paid fire department anymore. We rely on the New Haven Hose Company to protect the safety of the city's residents, and the fire department has done an excellent job.”

Councilman Greg “Mattie” Ritch said he supports the fire department.

“I fully support our firemen and policemen,” Ritch said. “I have watched these firemen driving past my house at 2 a.m. on a cold, wet night. I wouldn't want to do what they do. I have a lot of respect for them. It behooves the city to provide the proper equipment so the fire department can do the job and keep our residents safe.”

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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