|"Butch" Grube and his assistant, Rich Kanaskie|
A possible fire tax was raised last year by Tom Nolan. Eight other NorCo communities have a fire tax. Finance Director Andrew Freda spoke with the state about this idea and it was recommended as a "common practice" and as a good way to plan ahead. Hudak said that he'd want the fire tax to include the Township's entire annual obligation to volunteer firefighters.
Nothing happened until the 2019 budget was recently introduced, requesting a half mill tax hike. Now Commissioners are taking a hard look at a fire tax. Commissioner Malissa Davis argued, "It makes no sense to borrow $1 million for a firetruck." Commissioners have asked for 10-year listing of purchases and contributions to the Township's two fire departments, hoping to arrive at a fair tax.
All money raised by a fire tax must by law go to fire department funding. The advantage to this is everyone is assured that the money will be used to support fire departments. The disadvantage, as pointed out by President Michael Hudak, is that the money will be unavailable for other emergencies that might arise.
Commissioner John Gallager wondered why this has to be a tax and not a fee like a stormwater management fee, which can legally be imposed on nonprofits. Solicitor Wendy Nicolosi answered that a Township only that a has the powers it is given by the state. It may impose a fire tax. It has no authority to assess a fee that would apply to nonprofits. A Township's power to impose an individual tax is limited as well.
Commissioners also speculated that a fire tax that includes the annual contribution to fire companies might make reduce or even eliminate the need for a property tax increase for other services.
In 2017, South Whitehall Township adopted a 0.47 mill tax hike so it could generate the revenue needed to replace fire equipment over time without heavy borrowing.
In Hanover Township, there is no debt and there has been no tax increase for 10 years. Part of the reason for this, according to Manager Jay Finnigan, is the fire tax. It enables the Township to plan and pay cash for replacement fire vehicles.
In addition to the fire tax discussion, Commissioners voted unanimously to stop the commercial use of the recycling center for yard waste, starting in January. This was recommended by Public Works Director Richard "Butch" Grube.
Under current policy, the Yard Waste facility is open to all township residents with proof of residency. This includes contractors who can prove that they are either from the township or are providing service to residents of the township. According to Grube, contractors are abusing this policy "Contractors from within the township can use the drop off no matter where they are actually doing work based on their home address," he said. "Also, outside contractors can use information from residents of the township to use the drop off center regardless of where they are working."
In the past, the Township was able to take the mulch to Green Pond Nursery for no charge. But the nursery ran out of room. "We were forced to find a hauler to take the material at a cost of $250.00 for an 80 ton tractor trail load. So far this year, we have needed to haul 7 of these loads out," noted Grube.