Connellsville voters to decide paid fire department's fate
Connellsville voters will be able decide on Nov. 4 whether the city will continue with or disband its paid fire department.
On Monday, the Fayette County Election Board unanimously voted to place a referendum on the ballot after Commissioners Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Zapotosky reviewed legal questions.
Zimmerlink emphasized the referendum must be clear and must require a yes or no answer by the voter.
The referendum will read: “Shall the City of Connellsville disband the paid fire force in favor of having fire protection services performed by volunteers?”
Sheryl R. Heid, solicitor for the Election Board, said the question and the procedure for placing it on the ballot were correct.
She said there are two ways a referendum can be placed. The first is by petition signed by 20 percent of registered voters. The second is by an ordinance passed by the municipal body.
Connellsville council on July 31 passed an ordinance to place the referendum on the ballot.
Zimmerlink emphasized to the few people in the audience that Monday's vote was to authorize the placement of the question on the ballot, not to determine whether Connellsville will have a paid fire department.
Zapotosky questioned whether the result would affect the employment status of the last, single paid firefighter in the city, Lt. Craig Gates.
Timothy Witt, Connellsville city solicitor, responded that Gates' status was covered by the collective bargaining agreement and was not necessarily dependent on the outcome of the referendum.
Gates has been a paid fireman for the city for 13 years.
Witt and Antoinette Tesauro, city clerk, attended the meeting, representing Connellsville.
Placement of the referendum was in accordance with requirements of the state, according to Larry Blosser, director of the Fayette County Election Bureau. He said Monday's vote was within the time allowed after receipt of the request from Connellsville.
Blosser said the referendum will be advertised 10 days prior to the November election.
Although there were several people in the audience on Monday, no one made statements about the referendum.
Connellsville hasn't had a 24/7 paid fire department for nearly 15 years. The staff had dwindled through attrition.
New Haven Hose Company Volunteer Fire Department has been the city's primary fire department since 1991. New Haven Hose is assisted by South Connellsville and Connellsville Township volunteer fire departments.
New Haven Hose has 35 firefighters with an average of 12 firefighters responding to every call, according to Jeff Layton, assistant chief for New Haven Hose.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.