Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bethlehem Tp Ponders Fire Tax

"Butch" Grube and his assistant, Rich Kanaskie
Which do you think is more important, police or fire protection? If I could only pick one, it would be police protection. You can always replace a house, but you can never replace a life. The state legislature thinks differently. No state law requires a municipality to provide police protection. But since 2008, "The Municipality shall be responsible for ensuring that fire and emergency medical services are provided for including appropriate financial and administrative assistance.” So local governments are required by law to support their local fire departments. One way to do this, and to plan ahead for major capital purchases, is through a fire tax. This possibility was considered by Bethlehem Township Commissioners at their Oct 15 meeting.

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.


Anonymous said...

"Which do you think is more important, police or fire protection?"

A doctor...but that would be socialism.

Anonymous said...

"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"

That was a stupid question.

Anonymous said...

6:01 AM

What was stupid about it?
St Luke's is building, building, building.
And what was their last major announcement recently about Anderson Campus????

Anonymous said...

If this goes thru, the need to re-negotiate fire calls to surrounding municipalities needs to happen. I will not allow my tax dollars to go to another municipality if they are not paying their fair share and supporting their own fire depts!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fair point, but every municipality is already required by state law to support a fire department.

Anonymous said...

To address Mr. Hudak's statement: The amount of projected revenue from a fire tax in BT will not fund the entire financial support necessary for fire protection. If I recall correctly, it will raise about $500K/year. The projected allocation to both fire companies is about $420K. This leaves $80K for all other mandated expenses (like hydrant rental @$144K), plus building a reserve for capital improvements, such as apparatus. Even a 4th grader can do the math on this one.

Anonymous said...

Does their fire departments receive compensation for responding to the many many accidents on rts 22 & 33? Agree to keep their vehicles in township boundaries and would keep costs down by staying put!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is parochial thinking. The fire companies have MOAs with other departments so that they help each other. If BT has a major fire at your house and needs help but no one is willing to assist, you would be the first one to scream.

Paul said...

Please keep in mind, volunteer emergency service departments, both fire and ems NEED VOLUNTEERS! At its high point in 1970 Pa had around 300,000 volunteers. That number was down to 70,000 in the 90's and is now believed to be around 50,000. Volunteer responders save Pa residents an estimated $6 billion in costs and fees. Both of those facts from Pa Senate Resolution 60.

Fundraising, administrative, social media, website design and management, fire prevention, canteen services and of course firefighting and ems are all positions mostly all volunteer departments are looking for. There are plenty of nonhazardous ways to volunteer for your local fire department. Daytime help is most critical!

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to visit their local fire or ems dept and see how they can help out in anyway! Please visit to learn more!

Anonymous said...

I;m screaming FUCK YOU from Bethlehem Township and down by the river, can you hear me?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Paul, Your insight is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that recently a fire truck from the Nancy Run Fire company in Bethlehem Township was involved in a injury accident within Bethlehem City limits while responding to a fire in Fountain Hill despite the fact that Bethlehem City FD was closer. The fire truck and the car it hit were both towed and the operator of the fire truck was cited. Also of note is the fact that the mayor of Easton is proposing to hire part-time firefighters in EASTON to keep overtime costs down. Costs that could be eliminated if the FD was full staffed. I wonder how many volunteer chiefs are now concerned that some of their men will attempt to get work at Easton leaving the volunteer fire departments even more short-staffed, especially during the daytime hours. It is only natural to want to make some extra bucks.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem FD doesn't assist volunteer companies.