by Jonathan Weaver
With expenses continuing to climb in the Manor Township fire department, township supervisors will seek legal counsel’s advice on an added billing option.
Supervisors will consult with their solicitor on whether to allow local volunteer fire fighters to bill insurance agencies for emergency fire response, as is the practice of other regional municipalities.
Some of these municipalities include Murrysville Borough and several in the Lehigh Valley (in Southeastern Pennsylvania).
Officials estimate it requires about $250,000 per year to operate the fire department, and while local taxpayers subsidize expenses through a mill of taxes annually, firefighters are still required to fundraise and depend on fire hall rentals.
Last year, according to a document submitted by Fire Department First Lieutenant and Treasurer John Breski, the fire department received about $46,500. A majority of that (more than $13,700) went toward miscellaneous truck expenses, and more than $9,000 each went toward the fire hall along Byron Street and the new engine.
Fire Chief Chad Evans said fire fighters have considered raising money for a new aerial truck, but costs have skyrocketed to $800,000. The current aerial truck has been in service since 1995.
“Bare bones – six wheels and a ladder,” Chief Evans emphasized. “Right now, fire apparatus (costs) are (rising) about 25 percent every year.
“When there are only two engine manufacturers, they can charge you whatever they want to charge.”
Local Resident Larry Cecchi – a former fire department volunteer himself – understood the need for updated fire equipment, but cautioned supervisors.
“You can give your entire budget to them, and they’ll ask for more,” Cecchi said. “Want, want, want – I want everything too, but I can’t get it.”
Supervisor Chair Paul Rearick also wanted to hear a legal opinion before a final vote.
“Insurance companies aren’t going to lower your insurance if you don’t bill it,” Rearick said. “It results in higher premiums to the homeowners.”
Manor Township Fire Company responded to more than a dozen emergencies in November – eight of those including vehicle accidents.
The Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute has a model ordinance on their website, including three example levels of collectable fees.
The billing procedure even received State support last year, with both state legislators and state Fire Commissioner Timothy Solobay commenting in a December 2015 public hearing before the matter is scheduled for vote.
After no changes were made to the tentative budget, supervisors adopted the 2017 funding plan unanimously – including continuing to support the fire department through a mill of tax revenue.