The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 12, 2013

Cash-strapped officials mull another levy

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — Only halfway through the year, Brookfield Township police and fire departments are operating on a thin dime – still facing manpower shortages, no money for maintenance or emergency repairs and taking a beating at the gas pump. So much so that trustees are kicking around the idea of placing a tax levy on the fall ballot.

A safety services levy failed on last November’s ballot, but Fire Chief Keith Barrett said he thinks that was because voters were reluctant to support services other than the fire department. He told trustees Tuesday night that he’d like to see a 1.3 levy on the ballot this fall, designated only for the fire department. The proceeds, Barrett said, would allow him to open Station 51, the substation in Masury, as well as replace a furloughed firefighter and make desperately needed repairs to a 26-year-old fire truck.

He told trustees his costs have skyrocketed, the same as other departments, due to increasing health care costs, rising utilities, the high cost of fuel and significant cuts in state funds.

“We essentially have a $400,000 building on Addison Road that is abandoned,” he said, referring to the Masury substation. “Our response time is increased by four to five minutes because that station is closed and I get a lot of heat about that,” he said.

“The only solution to this in my mind is a levy. And I hate to say that, because I already think we tax people to death. But I say put it out there and let the people decide what they want. If they don’t want it, then we’ll have to live where we are or make additional cuts,” Barrett said.

“We had a combined levy last fall and we know where that got us. Some people voted for it but some against it because it wasn’t separated. The fire department by itself stands a chance,” he said.

“The police give people tickets and people don’t like that. We take grandma to the hospital and people like us,” he said.

Trustee Ron Haun said he would like to see the ambulance service increase business, particularly from local nursing homes. Barrett said the bulk of the departments calls are ambulance calls.

Police Chief Dan Faustino, who is working within a budget that is nearly $100,000 less than it was five years ago, isn’t asking for an additional levy, but suggested trustees considering renewing levies that are already in place. By placing a renewal on the ballot rather than a new levy, the costs to the taxpayers are considerably lower.

Faustino said he too is putting off repairs and equipment replacements because he lacks the money. Just replacing two bullet-proof vests that are overdue will completely wipe out his maintenance budget. The vests cost about $750 each and he’s only got $1,000 budgeted.

Trustees are in the midst of a feasibility study that would consider combining Brookfield Township, Hubbard Township and Hubbard police forces, though any movement in that direction is likely years away, Faustino said.

Trustee Ron Haun commended Faustino on operating the department as efficiently as he has and thanked him for the extra hours he puts in without charging the township. He credits his staff for working to reduce expenses and managing their time effectively. The crime rate in the township varies, as it does everywhere, he said, based on the economy.

“When the economy is in the tank, you see more thefts. It comes in waves,” he said.

Trustee Phil Schmidt listened to both department heads but said he’s concerned about raising taxes again, since the township already ranks as the sixth-highest taxing body in the county. And although he said he’s heard there may be more state money available to townships next year, he’s concerned a large portion of it will go to the school.

“We already have people who are stretched to the limit. I mean, look, the school levy passed by one vote. Another one may not pass,” he said.

Schmidt also said the board will have to reach a decision by the July meeting, because the deadline to place a levy on the fall ballot is early August.