Port Matilda Community Saves Fire Station in Pennsylvania

PORT MATILDA -- The community has rallied to save Port Matilda Fire Company's building from foreclosure, and the company has now set its sights on saving its tanker truck from bank repossession.

"We went over $32,000 (Thursday)," said Lee Pressler, chairman of the Port Matilda Fire Company's Financial Control Committee, of the desperate, weeklong effort to raise $27,628 by the end of the month to avoid foreclosure. "If all the checks clear, we're going to wire the money to the bank (today)."

Allegheny Valley Bank in Pittsburgh began foreclosure proceedings earlier this month after the fire company failed to make $94,000 in balloon payments on its building and tanker. The company needs to raise $67,403 to make the past-due payment on the tanker.

Pressler declined to discuss whether making the building payment will buy the fire company time to make the balloon payment on the tanker, but did say the department has been in close contact with the bank.

"I don't see a problem," Pressler said.

Also Thursday, state Rep. Lynn Herman, R-Philipsburg, announced he has secured a $10,000 grant to help the fire company pay operational costs.

Herman said he is working to shorten the usual eight to 12 weeks it would take for the grant money to be handed to the fire company because of "the seriousness of the situation."

"At this point, I'm trying to expedite the paperwork through the Department of Community and Economic Development so they can get the money as soon as possible," Herman said.

Supporters of the company say they're optimistic its days of financial difficulty are in the past, thanks to a new committee appointed to oversee its finances.

"I really visualize we can be debt-free in two years," said Sam Lykens, one of five members of Port Matilda Fire Company's Financial Control Committee. Members of the committee, formed by the fire company last week, were selected from people who have no connection to the fire company and are not elected officials in an effort to ensure the committee's credibility with the public.

With the building balloon payment taken care of, the fire company has debt of about $150,000, Lykens said, including about $40,000 outstanding on the fire house and money owed on two vehicles. Should the company make both of balloon payments, it will resume regular payments totaling $3,445 a month.

Lykens is organizing a fundraiser aimed at about 20 of the community's more affluent residents in the hopes they willeach donate $5,000. In return, those donors would receive such perks as lifetime free use of the fire hall and swimming pool fill-ups.

"I may be an optimist," Lykens said, "but I believe this is entirely possible."

The fire company is preparing bills to submit to the five municipalities served by the fire company -- Port Matilda and Halfmoon, Huston, Taylor and Worth townships. Three of the five levy taxes designated for fire protection and the committee wants that money, Lykens said.

Thursday night, Port Matilda Fire Chief Dean "Butch" Rudy Jr. gave Halfmoon Township supervisors a proposed contract for fire protection services for this year. It asks Halfmoon supervisors for $35,292 for 2005 services.

Supervisors said they will review the proposed contract with their solicitor.

Also Thursday, Halfmoon Township supervisors announced they will host a meeting of elected officials from the five affected municipalities at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the township building. The officials are expected to discuss what to do with more than $9,000 left in an account belonging to a partnership of those five municipalities that disbanded as of Dec. 31, 2004. The account had been set up to aid Port Matilda Fire Company.

The Port Matilda committee also is drafting contracts for fire protection, with fee structures, to be submitted to the municipalities this summer for 2006, Lykens said.

"We feel the municipalities should pay 80 percent of the operating budget," Lykens said. "And the volunteer firemen will raise 20 percent."

The company operates on an annual budget of approximately $100,000.

Lew Marrara, a Taylor Township supervisor, said his municipality enacted a half-mill tax increase last year for fire protection from Port Matilda firefighters.

"But we can't pick up the entire debt load," Marrara said. "They still will need to do fundraising. And they are going to need better bookkeeping than they had in the past. But then again, that's the past. Let's forget about the past. This is a new beginning."

Distributed by the Associated Press