BP Volunteer Fire Company hosts first home rule charter public meetingPublished Mar 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm (Updated Mar 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm)
A rendering of the proposed new Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company station.
Members of the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company said they don’t know what they will do if a referendum to enact a dedicated fire tax fails.
The proposed referendum, which is expected to be on the May Primary ballot, would amend the home rule charter to allow for a .34 mill tax, which would be used to pay for construction of a new fire station and to cover the annual operating costs for the all-volunteer fire company.
The fire company held its first public meeting on March 7 to educate residents about the proposed referendum. The meeting was attended by approximately two dozen supporters, as well as several municipal officials.
While the meeting was going on, volunteers responded to two calls – one for a natural gas leak and another for an oven fire.
“You should have done this 20 years ago,” said Bob Baker, a resident who has worked as a volunteer and as a paid firefighter in other communities. “Don’t hesitate to let these people help, ask for what you need because you are doing a great job.”
Members of the 85 member, all-volunteer fire company said they have exhausted all other options for raising funds. Working with municipal officials, fire company members decided a dedicated tax would be the way to solve the fire company’s financial problems.
Currently, only 35 percent of the households and 10 percent of the businesses in Bethel Park contribute to the fire company’s fund drives, said Greg Pohodich, company vice president.
“The fire company is one of the best bargains we have in Bethel Park,” said Joe Czarny, one of the residents who attended the meeting. “That 70 percent (of the community) doesn’t contribute, it just stuns me.”
The proposed tax would mean residents would pay $34 for every $100,000 in property value for the tax. The average house value in Bethel Park is estimated to be $142,000, according to Allegheny County assessments. Firefighters have created an Internet program, based on Allegheny County real estate values, that allows residents to see exactly how much they would pay if the tax is enacted.
According to firefighters, the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company is the largest volunteer fire company in Allegheny County and the only one not to get support from their local municipality.
Firefighters said that if the municipality was to go to a paid fire service, it would cost Bethel Park residents approximately $4.1 million annually.
In addition, the average savings on residents homeowner’s insurance, because of the insurance industry rating the fire company has achieved, is more than the company is asking in the referendum, fire company members said.
“We’re just asking for everyone to pay their fair share,” said Pohodich.
The company is hoping to be able to build a new station to replace the main station on Brightwood Road. Plans call for construction to begin late winter 2014. The current station, which was built in 1954, would be demolished and the new station would be built at that location.
Dennis Ross, an architect with Pacheco Ross Architects PC, said the building will be commercial grade, all-brick with a metal roof.
The garage will have six vehicle bays, lockers, a decontamination area, storage and a bunk area. The second floor will house office spaces and training areas and the building will have it’s own training tower.
Designed as “a working facility,” construction is expected to cost $8,349,900 and the building can be expected to last 50 to 75 years.
During construction, the company would keep its trucks and other equipment close by at the municipal public works site and at the Keifer Supply Company location along West Library Avenue.
The proposed .34 dedicated fire tax would be collected and administered by the municipality and would be used to construct a new station and to maintain all three stations.
“It will allow the firefighters to train and fight fires,” explained Edward Schmidt, company recording secretary and chairman of the building committee.