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Washington Twp. considers tax to help pay off fire dep't debt

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 11:56 a.m.

Charles Horan knows winter is when firefighters are needed most.

"In the wintertime, you get overheated furnaces and wood burners, kerosene heaters can start a fire in a house very easily because people are using them to stay warm, and Christmas trees can catch fire if the lights short-circuit," said Horan, vice president of Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department in Fayette County.

Horan can't remember a time when his department failed to respond in such cases.

"We go anytime anyone needs us. Even if it's out of Washington Township, we go," Horan said.

But as this year winds down and temperatures plunge, Horan wonders whether that trend will continue.

It's possible the township department could shut down by Jan. 1 if it doesn't generate more money to pay a $7,800 monthly loan reimbursement fee to Smithfield State Bank, Horan said.

"If we can't meet that loan, we'll have to shut down, and the bank will have to come and take everything," Horan said.

So the department is asking township residents and merchants for help.

Department officials recently asked township supervisors to approve a residential and commercial fire tax to help reduce the department's financial woes, said Supervisor Melvin Weiss.

To keep running, the department must continue paying off the 20-year loan for $1,872,000 obtained in 2002. The loan was necessary to stabilize the department, which is also carrying a previous debt of about $500,000, Weiss said.

"We need our fire department, there's no doubt about it," Weiss said.

So he is thinking about the department's request.

"We're considering asking township residents to pay $25 annually and township businesses to pay $100 annually to support the department under a three-year agreement," Weiss said.

But Weiss wants such money to be used properly. So he's insisting such a tax be accompanied by a board of individuals who would monitor exactly how the money would be used.

"This board would perform an audit at the end of all three years to make sure the money is being used properly," Weiss said. "As long as there is an account of every penny, the people of this township can see paying the tax."

The board Weiss has in mind would be composed of seven members: four township residents and three members of the fire department.

"All checks to the fire department from money generated by this tax would have to be signed by a township supervisor and a person on the board," Weiss said.

Horan said the department has no problems with Weiss' suggestion.

"The fire company is in agreement with having the board, especially since they said there would be a couple of firemen on it," said Horan, adding that the money from the tax would be used to pay off the bank loan exclusively.

Both Weiss and Horan said township supervisors and fire department officials plan to discuss the matter further before year's end.

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