The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 22, 2014

Finding a fair funding formula

Deal in works to pay for first responders

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — Trustees from Brookfield and Hartford are trying to hammer out a deal so that the townships share the costs of fire and ambulance service while also keeping them affordable.

Officials from both townships met this week to review an annual contract that calls for Hartford to pay slightly more than $27,000 a year plus 12 percent of maintenance costs for the ambulances. Each department will be responsible for the maintenance of its own fire trucks.

 Brookfield firefighters and emergency medical personnel respond immediately to calls in Hartford, said fire Chief Keith Barrett, because Hartford’s department is all volunteer and not always readily available.

“In fact, all of their members are members of Brookfield’s department,” he said.

The biggest expense, Barrett said, is the ambulance service, since the number of calls has continued to climb since Brookfield began covering Hartford in 2009. He estimates the department responds to about 30 calls a month in Hartford Township, which has about 2,200 residents.

“One of my goals when we first started doing this was that their truck would be active before we got there, but I haven’t achieved that yet. Most of their volunteers are working elsewhere during the day,” Barrett said.

Hartford trustees said they were worried about a clause in the contract that calls for them to pay 12 percent of a major repair or new purchase and said a large expense, like a new fire truck or ambulance, is something they cannot afford.

Hartford trustee Mike Bridges, who is also a firefighter, said a recent 1-mill levy will net the township about $39,000 a year and from that he’d like to take care of some much-needed repair work on the fire station. “We own the building, but your guys use it and it’s badly in need of repair. I plan to do a lot of the work myself so there should be a significant savings and hopefully, if we have money leftover, we can start to build a rainy day fund. There’s going to come a day when we need a new truck,” he said.

Brookfield Trustee Gary Lees said he is concerned about the age of all the trucks in both departments, noting that much-needed maintenance has also been put off on Brookfield’s vehicles. A levy passed in Brookfield last fall will allow for some of that maintenance and opening of the Masury substation later this spring.

“I’m looking at how old these trucks are. Some are 1990s. That’s alarming to me,” Lees said. A new fire truck costs upward of $600,000, Barrett said.

Hartford trustee Becky Whitman said she favors the agreement that calls for the annual fee and a portion of maintenance expenses, but she pointed out that Brookfield receives all insurance reimbursements for calls they answer.

“You provide us a wonderful service, for sure. Our residents can rest easy knowing who is responding and it’s only fair that you are compensated for that. Certainly for us to provide our own fire and EMS service is cost prohibitive,” Whitman said.

Brookfield Trustee Dion Magestro said he favors placing a cap on the cost of maintenance repairs Hartford would have to pay. “That way there’s no surprises for you. You know what the absolute max could be and if it’s less, well that’s good, too,” he said.

Barrett said because Brookfield covers Hartford, residents of Hartford are not facing a huge increase in their property insurance premiums. Measured by an ISO rating, Barrett said Hartford residents are at a 9, on a 1 to 10 scale. “If you don’t have a truck in that station, you’re looking at a 10 and that is an astronomical, astronomical leap in prices. If you’re paying $500 a year now for insurance, you’d be looking at $800 or $900,” he said.

Trustees from both townships discussed the possibility of having water lines installed, but made no agreements beyond talking about it. Barrett said the ISO rating will stay at a 9 “without a pressurized water system.”

Brookfield Trustee Ron Haun said he was hoping to find a way to draw younger community members into the fire service. He suggested that Barrett and trustees take part in career days at local schools and encourage people to volunteer.

Both sets of trustees will meet again at 7 p.m. April 29 to finalize the contract.