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Valley News Dispatch

North Apollo fire department's fate likely hangs on council vote

Emily Balser
| Saturday, March 4, 2017, 11:25 p.m.

North Apollo Council is expected to decide Monday whether to keep its fire fee — and, officials say, its fire depart­ment.

Residents have paid the fee every year since 2013 to support the North Apollo Volunteer Fire Department.

The fee costs businesses $80 a year and residents between $40 and $50 per year.

The fee is collected by the borough and turned over to the fire department. Borough officials audit the department once a year to make sure the money is being used correctly.

Doing away with the fee would likely mean the volunteer fire department would have to close its doors, officials say.

“We understand that, if we do not have this, we'll probably lose our fire department,” council President Laura Ford said.

Josh McKendree, fire department president, said the fee generates roughly $34,000 of the department's $55,000 budget.

“It would be hard to project $34,000 worth of fundraising in a year,” McKendree said. “There's almost no lead time.”

Ford said borough officials have received feedback from some residents who can't afford the fee. She said the borough, with a population of about 1,200, has many aging citizens on fixed incomes.

“The only reason we're reconsidering it is because of the economic burden it's putting on the residents,” Ford said.

McKendree said the department is open to alternative options for the fee, including lowering the cost or allowing residents to use a payment plan.

Residents are required to pay the fee in a single payment.

“I think what hurts people is they're expecting it to be paid at the same time as property taxes,” McKendree said.

McKendree said the depart­ment has about 25 active firefighters. They respond to about 120 calls a year.

Ford said if the North Apollo department were to close, residents would likely be covered by the fire departments in Apollo, which she said is about a mile away.

“It's not as though the residents would be unprotected,” Ford said.

Police department already gone

This wouldn't be the first time the borough has had to suspend one of its emergency services.

The borough contracts with Kiski Township for its police coverage instead of having its own police force, and Ford said that works out well.

Ford encourages residents to come out and voice their opinions during the council meeting so council members can get a sense of what most residents want.

Ford said she recognizes the effort the volunteer firefighters put into the borough and knows this is a tough decision.

“They are hardworking men and women who give up a lot and risk their lives,” she said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or emilybalser@tribweb.com.

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