HOUTZDALE — Woodward Township Supervisors and members of Houtzdale Vol. Fire Co. said they are confident a new agreement will be reached to continue to provide fire protection to township residents.
A Letter to the Editor from Fire Chief Matthew Reifer that was published in The Progress recently stated if the township refuses to sign a new contract for fire protection by the end of the year, the fire company would terminate fire protection in the township effective Jan. 1.
In addition to requesting more than double its funding from about $9,600 to $20,000 annually, firefighters are also asking the township to sign a 10-year contract — but supervisors aren’t willing to sign such a long term deal.
Concerned residents and members of the fire company filled last night’s Woodward Township supervisors meeting to discuss the issue.
However, Supervisor Rick Kasubick said residents should not be worried.
“We are not going to lose our fire protection,” Kasubick said.
Lieutenant Derek Southern of the fire company said the department cannot afford to provide fire protection in the township without additional funds. The fire company is asking the township to more than double its funding to the fire department — from about $9,600 per year to $20,000 per year.
Currently, the township receives 25 percent of the township’s Local Services Tax revenue — about $38,000 — so the township could increase the fire department’s share to $20,000 and the township would still have $18,000 left over in LST revenue, Southern said.
Colleen Vingless, financial secretary for the fire company, said it has a budget of about $70,000. The fire company spends about $15,000 for insurance, $11,000 for utilities, and $8,000 for heat — and that doesn’t include the fire company’s other expenses, such as $22,000 for a new roof constructed recently that required a loan to pay for it.
She said the fire company does extensive fundraising, which brings in about $50,000 annually, but it still isn’t enough to pay all of the bills. She said the fire company conducted 13 fundraisers annually.
Jeff Arnold Jr. of the fire company said they have no choice but to ask for more funds to remain solvent.
He noted the fire company is under no obligation to provide fire protection to the township. Arnold said members of the fire company already are required to undergo hundreds of hours of training and they already perform numerous fundraisers — and it isn’t fair for the township to ask even more from volunteers to pay for rising costs.
Deputy Chief Jamie Wayne said the fire company would like to have a steady revenue coming in so it can put money aside to purchase a new fire truck in the future.
Supervisor Rick Kasubick said the township is willing to work with the fire company — but said the Letter to the Editor wasn’t helpful. Arnold responded by saying the fire company has been coming to the township since June of 2018 without success.
Several members of the fire company said the township never made a counter offer to its proposal. Wayne attributed a lack of communication between the two sides as the main problem.
A resident who didn’t give her name said the township should support the fire company and suggested the township put it on the ballot to enact a 1.5 mill fire tax, but until that can be done, enter into a two or three-year contract with the fire company.
Kasubick said he believes the fire tax is best way to fund the fire company because everyone would pay it. If the township enacted the 1.5 mill tax it would cost the average residence about $25 a year.
A 1.5 mill tax would provide the fire company about $20,000 annually, Wayne said.
Kasubick said the township would schedule some meetings with the fire company and said he is confident that they will work something out before the end of the year.