The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

July 20, 2013

Voters to be asked to OK 1.5-mill fire levy

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — Brookfield trustees this week agreed to place a 1.5-mill levy on the November ballot to raise money that Fire Chief Keith Barrett said is needed to reopen the closed fire substation and help maintain the department’s fleet of vehicles.

Trustee Ron Haun, however, isn’t convinced that enough “due diligence” has been done with the fire department operations for him to support asking taxpayers for more money. Haun said he asked Barrett in earlier meetings to provide the trustees with additional cost-saving suggestions before proceeding with a levy and said that information was not provided.

If voters approve the levy, it would bring in about $164,000 a year and Barrett said $90,000 of that would be used to bring back one full-time and one part-time firefighter. Those replacements would allow the reopening of the Masury substation on Addison Road, which has been closed for more than year.

“The issue with the substation is, of course, response time. We’re saving four minutes on the time we can get to your house and if you’re having a heart attack, those minutes really matter,” Barrett said. “The ambulances are the issue. We have to keep them maintained because they run constantly. We do about six to eight calls a day,” he said.

Haun, who abstained from Tuesday’s vote, agrees that ambulances are indeed the issue. “I think we spent too much on the ambulances we do have. I was told we could have bought two ambulances for what we paid for one. We’re constantly signing checks for maintenance on the ambulances. And when we bought them, I was told the maintenance costs would be less,” he said.

Barrett said he’s only halfway through the year and he has no money left to spend, other than to pay employees, buy gas and keep the lights on.

“That we have no money for maintenance is one of the severe parts of the problem,” Barrett said. “And I think the people will understand that we need EMS. I think it touches everybody in the community. Everybody has a family member or friend or someone they know that we have cared for,” he said.

Voters approved a replacement levy in 2006, Barrett said, and at the time, he was paying $1.49 a gallon for fuel. “Now, I’m paying upwards of $4 a gallon and I have been for some time. That’s $19,200 a year more that gets sucked out of the budget. That’s not including increases for water, sewer, electric and just about everything.”

Haun said he thinks it’s important to note that the fire department budget is about one-third of the township’s entire budget. “If that levy passes, that’s going to take the fire department budget up to close to $1.4 million. It’s been decided and I will support the efforts. But I think it’s not fair to ask the taxpayers for additional money without some more homework.”

He also said the distinction has to be made that the fire department and the ambulance service are not one and the same. “About 90 percent of our employees’ time is spent running the ambulance. The ambulance is operating at a loss, even though on paper it looks like it breaks even with what we get reimbursed from insurances. That’s something I’d like people to understand.”

“The fire department salaries are subsidizing EMS,” he said.

Haun said he plans to ask township firefighters to join a discussion soon to get their ideas on cost-saving measures. “I want their input on how their budgeted money is being spent,” he said.

Trustees Phil Schmidt and Gary Lees voted in favor of placing the levy on the ballot. Schmidt said “fire levies are generally pretty well accepted” but he knows that some residents are upset with the recent school levy that passed.

“EMS is a selling point. We can put an ambulance there in four minutes, instead of having to wait maybe 20 minutes for a commerical company. I know I experienced that with my parents,” Schmidt said.