Fire tax ballot question main topic discussed
By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer • firstname.lastname@example.org
TOWER CITY – Close to 50 residents met with line officers of the Tower City Fire Company to clear the air about a ballot question for a proposed fire tax to be added to residents’ property taxes.
What came out of that was a two-hour discussion on Aug. 15 between the firefighters and the public, giving residents insight about how the fire department is operating now and the future of the department.
Much of the talking on behalf of the company was done by line officer Marcus Riddell, who also serves on Tower City’s borough council, fire company president Ross Baker, and fire chief Mike Keiter. When Riddell joined the fire company, he asked about how much support the borough gives to its only fire company.
“The fire company gets $18,000 a year from the borough,” Riddell told the audience. “With that money, we have to pay or workmen’s compensation insurance and our liability insurance. That leaves the company with about $3,647 left over for any other bills.”
Baker told the residents that the fire company is keeping themselves solvent, thanks to fundraisers, but if one thing goes wrong, it will be a big expense.
“Our trucks are 25 to 30 years old,” Baker said. “The pumper we use is 30 years old. If we would crack a pump on that, it is a fix that would cost us $8,000-$15,000. We are looking to replace 15 air tanks that are ready to expire, and that will not be a cheap fix.
Because it was such a big expense, the department is looking to downsize, having only 10 apparatus available.
“To upgrade to new equipment, the apparatus cost $6,500 each. So for 10 new tanks and gear, it will be a $65,000 price tags,” Baker said.
After hearing about the plight of his brother firefighters, Riddell went to borough council, asking for what they can do for them. The suggestion was made about a 1/2 mill tax increase to help out but according to Riddell, another council member sabotaged his efforts.
“The board member, Paul Ruth, immediately put a motion on the floor for a four-mill tax increase to be put on the ballot for consideration and Robert Shuey seconded the motion, which passed,” Liddell said. “They knew there was now way the public would pass the vote, so it was dead in the water.”
Besides Liddell, the only other person representing borough officials in attendance was mayor Daniel Daub. Daub told the public that the matter may not even come up for a vote this year.
“I just think it is too late in the game to get it on the ballot for this November,” Daub said. “I keep asking the borough’s solicitor and keep being told it’s in the works.”
Other than the borough money, the firefighters raise funds through their donation letters and fundraising, which they said both ways have dropped off recently.
“If we knew that there were fundraisers going on, we would not only support you but help you in some way, shape or form,” one resident said.
There have been talks going around about merging fire companies, but the Tower City Fire Department dropped out of those talks when certain questions weren’t answered.
The comments from the public ranged from criticism of borough council for not offering enough support to the firefighters to questions about why their tax dollars would finance their to the Tower City Fire Company while a majority of the calls they respond to our mutual aid calls in other townships.
“Why should our money go to pay for Porter Township and other places to have fire protection?” one person asked.
Others feel that is unfair that property owners get hit with the taxes when a good number of the people living in Tower City are in rental properties, and don’t pay property taxes.
“The younger people are not involved with helping,” Baker said. “Many of the donations we get are from senior citizens, those on the fixed incomes.”
Following the meeting, Liddell hoped that many misconceptions about the fire company and its operation and the tax were cleared up.
“When the public first got wind of this through the social media, it just blew up and all kinds of rumors started flying around,” Liddell said. “We hope that after hearing our side, regardless of how the vote turns out in November, we can become reenergized and get the people behind our efforts and step up to make this community a whole lot better.”