Bethel council member strongly opposed to home rule charter change

Published Apr 24, 2013 at 10:34 am (Updated Apr 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm)

Members of the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company hope to have the support of the voters on the May referendum which would enact a .34 mill dedicated fire tax, but they already have the support of eight council members.

Bethel Park Council members said Monday they plan to enact a resolution in support of the all-volunteer fire company. The resolution is expected to be on the agenda for the May 13 council meeting.

On Feb. 11, council voted to place a referendum question changing the home rule charter to enact the tax for the purpose of constructing a new fire station and to fund the annual operating costs of the 80-year-old fire company.

Councilman Don Harrison has 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, the ordinance was submitted to the Allegheny Bureau of Elections on Feb. 13 to meet the Feb. 19 deadline for referendum questions to be place on the May 21 ballot.

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

The councilman has been very vocal in his opposition of changing the home rule charter. Harrison contends that the municipality should provide funds for the company through an ordinance or a bond issue.

The resolution, which was discussed at the council committee meeting, praises the fire company for its dedication and service to the community, the police department, the Tri-Community South Emergency Medical Service, as well as other departments and emergency services throughout the South Hills.

“If you (put this resolution on the floor) I will tell the public what I think this is all about,” Harrison threatened his fellow council members.

Members of the fire company have said the change to the home rule charter, by a referendum supported by voters, is the only way to ensure that the fire service will have a dedicated funding source that can not be changed except by another referendum.

According to firefighters, donations from residents have fallen off and currently only about 35 percent of the residents and 10 percent of the businesses in the community contribute to the firefighters’ fund drives.

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.

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