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Irwin agrees to fire department aid plan

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 11:01 p.m.

Irwin Borough Council members Thursday announced a $140,000 fire equipment funding agreement proposal that they hope will help get the volunteer department out of its financial difficulties.

At the end of the Thursday agenda workshop meeting, council members held a question-and-answer session for the media to get details on the proposal. If it is accepted by the Irwin Borough Volunteer Fire Department, council will vote on it at Wednesday's meeting.

Council President Danyce Neal said all seven council members agreed to discuss the proposal publicly only this one time before the vote.

"It's not that we're trying to hide anything, it's just that when you have seven people, you could get seven different answers (if you spoke to us individually)," Neal said.

Under the proposal, council would release $45,000, already allocated to the department in the 2002 budget, to help pay off $57,708 that will be owed for the department's 1997 fire attack engine at the end of December.

The department will be expected to make up the $12,708 difference, Neal said.

"This takes them completely out of debt," he said.

Council would be expected to allocate another $45,000 in the 2003 budget, which the department would use to make a deposit on a new $350,000-$360,000 heavy rescue truck.

Councilman Shawn Stitely, who is the fire department's assistant chief, said the department would likely have to put off getting a new 100-foot ladder truck for the foreseeable future. The department's 1968 ladder truck is often out of service due to mechanical problems.

Economics make a new heavy rescue truck a more viable choice, Stitely said.

"Any vehicle accident on the turnpike or in Irwin Borough, we can bill (the driver's insurance companies) for," Stitely said.

Councilwoman Mary Lou Patterson, who along with Neal and Councilman Edwin "Bo" Anthony served on the committee that negotiated the proposal with the department, said the rescue truck could bring in funds, while the ladder truck couldn't.

"The rescue truck can generate revenue for the department," Patterson said.

For that reason, as well as the much higher $500,000-$600,000 price tag for a new ladder truck, the borough also agreed to commit as much as $10,000 in annual matching funds for five years to help the department pay off the rescue truck. The five-year period would begin in 2004, and the annual match would be only as much as the department could raise that year.

"If they can only raise $8,000, they'll only get $8,000," Neal said.

Councilman Harry Neil, the fire department vice president, said the department will apply for a low-interest loan to help pay off the rescue truck in about 10 years. Also, the department engine now used to respond to vehicle accidents would be stripped of its rescue equipment and sold, with proceeds to go toward the new engine.

Vehicle accidents account for 33 percent of the department's calls every year, Neil said.

The department is already planning at least five more fund-raising efforts to help make the payments, as well as its day-to-day expenses, Neil said. Department members will vote on the proposal Monday.

Stitely said he thought the proposal was more than fair.

"Irwin council is definitely helping out the fire department and going the extra mile," Stitely said.

Neal noted that it would be wrong not to acknowledge the work done by former Councilwoman Deborah Naser, who served on the negotiating committee when it was formed more than a year ago.

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