Bethel continues to argue over home rule charter

Published Apr 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm (Updated Apr 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm)

As the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company prepares to once again take the issue of a fire tax to the voters, members of Bethel Park Council continue to haggle over the action which placed the referendum question on the May ballot.

On Feb. 11, council voted to place a referendum question concerning enacting a .34 mill real estate tax for the purpose of constructing a new fire station and to pay the operating costs for the all-volunteer fire company.

Members of the 85-member company have said they exhausted all other options for raising funds. According to Greg Pohodich, company vice president, only 35 percent of the households and 10 percent of the businesses in community contribute to the firefighters’ fund drives. Working with municipal officials, fire company members decided a dedicated tax would be the way to solve the fire company’s financial problems.

Firefighters recently held a public meeting to educate voters about the fire company and the need and plans for a new fire station. A second public meeting is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. April 18 at the fire station on Brightwood Road.

Councilman Don Harrison said that while he supports the firefighters, he believes that council violated its own home rule charter. The vote took place on Feb. 11 and, according to Harrison, did not, per the home rule charter, become effective until March 13.

However, Robert McTiernan, municipal solicitor submitted the ordinance to the Allegheny Bureau of Elections on Feb. 13.

The election bureau required that requests for ballot questions to be place on the May 21 ballot had to be submitted by Feb. 19.

Harrison contends this violated the home rule charter because the ordinance was not yet effective.

At the March 11 Bethel Park Council meeting, McTiernan confirmed that a primary election ballot referendum question concerning enacting the tax had been approved by the election bureau.

Council President Tim Moury encouraged residents to attend the fire company’s meeting and to ask questions. “I will be voting yes on May 21 and I would encourage the residents to (also) support the fire tax,” Moury said.

Other council members, including Jim McLean, spoke in favor of the referendum. “It will be on the ballot,” he said. “The voters will have to decide.”

In other business, council announced that the annual Spring Cleanup Day will take place on April 20. Groups or individuals that wish to volunteer to clean up the roadways should call the municipality for more information.

The municipality is also preparing for the annual Memorial Day commemoration, and Councilman Mark O’Brien said that any group or individual who would like to sponsor a flag at the Veterans Memorial in front of the municipal building should contact the veterans memorial committee. The cost is $100 for a year and the donor is recognized by a plaque on the flag pole.

In addition, Councilman Jack Allen reminded residents that the deadline for participation in the Veterans Banner Project is April 30. The banners will be displayed annually between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Information about the program is available on the municipal Web site and the American Legion Post 760 Web site.

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