Board split over size of increase, 3-2 vote limits hike to about 30%
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The township will increase what it gives local fire and ambulance companies in 2012 by as much as 30%, but that number still isn’t where volunteer firefighters and at least one township supervisor hoped it would be.
The board of supervisors voted Monday night to levy a .30% fire protection tax, estimated to be worth about $206,000. That represents an increase in two ways over last year’s main budget donation of $176,000. First, the entire number is higher, by about $30,000 assuming similar tax revenue next year; second, as those funds are targeted solely for fire protection, additional funds will come out of the main budget to help fund local ambulance service: $35,800.
That means Po-Mar-Lin, which gets 80% of the funds (the rest goes to Longwood — a split based on the coverage areas of the two companies within the township), should see a net increase of funds from the township of about $52,000, or a roughly 30% increase. The exact numbers can’t be known, as they are dependent on taxes collected, which can change based on reassessments, new properties and taxes that are not paid.
Still, supervisor Robert Weer argued for more funds for the fire companies, citing concerns that without more support, they could cease to exist — leaving the township to fully fund fire protection. Weer renewed his support of boosting the fire protection tax to .55 — which would net about $376,000. Alternately, he suggested leaving the fire protection tax at .30, but raising the main levy from 1.05 to 1.20 and restoring the $176,000 given to fire/EMT/rescue in 2011 to the main budget.
Those figures, though, met resistance from some of Weer’s colleagues, who suggested that such an increase would be too much, too fast — preferring to boost the contributions more gradually over a five year period. And clearly, raising the main budget tax rate, they said wasn’t acceptable.
“I’m opposed to any increase in the general appropriation,” supervisors’ chair Cuyler Walker said. “Obviously, we need to support the fire companies,” he noted, citing that the budget as proposed already had a sizable increase. Walker also noted that the township needs to continue with a new effort to engage neighboring townships in Po-Mar-Lin’s service area — Pocopson, Newlin and West Marlborough — to get them to more equitably support the company.
Weer, though, expressed pessimism that other towns would step up, noting in his 24 years on the board of supervisors, the township has continually paid more than its share to support Po-Mar-Lin, while its neighbors have not.
“When are the other townships going to come on board?” he asked.
His colleagues acknowledged the issue — saying they shared his frustration with their neighbors over the issue.
“It’s hard to know what the right answer is,” Walker said.
One small item that could help, at least a bit: if the township passes and ordinance allowing fire companies to directly bill insurance companies for car accident and fire calls. The companies are entitled to charge between between $250 and $500 for some emergency calls, if the township allows for it.
Another help: finding a way to cut down on false alarms. Errant calls for non-emergencies sap both manpower and cost the companies money — and firefighters cited recent issues at the New Bolton Center as being particularly “devastating” with multiple false alarms in on one evening recently.
Ultimately, the board split, 3-2, with Weer and Richard Hicks voting no, on the lower funding level for the fire companies. Walker, Richard Hannum and Eddie Caudill supported the measure.