July 05--A group of Connellsville residents want to eliminate the city's last paid firefighter position.
"Over the past few years, the fire department has shrunk and volunteer fire departments have taken over the vast majority of the calls," said Melissa Tzan, one of several residents trying to drum up signatures for a petition to eliminate the post through a ballot referendum.
The purpose of the petition is not to eliminate the city's fire protection -- New Haven Hose Co. Volunteer Fire Department provides fire protection around the clock -- but to save money that New Haven Hose Co. can use for equipment or infrastructure in the city.
"New Haven Hose has unofficially been the city's fire department for the last three years, which there would not be any interruption in fire service if the paid department is eliminated," said Connellsville Mayor Greg Lincoln. "We also have Connellsville Township and South Connellsville volunteer fire departments that assist New Haven Hose with fires in the city."
Tzan said they started circulating the petition on June 17 and will need to collect about 1,000 signatures to hand in to the Fayette County Election Bureau for approval to be placed on the November ballot as a referendum.
Then it would be up to voters to decide to save or eliminate the position.
"This is something that should have been done three years ago," Lincoln said.
Lincoln said the move will save the city $100,000 per year and will free up a city-owned vehicle for health-code enforcement use.
"That will save the city from paying the 56 cents a mile we pay our code enforcer to use his own vehicle now," Lincoln said.
The move could allow the city to sell the East Side Fire Station, which would put the building on the tax rolls and bring in more money to the city, he said.
Lincoln said the extra money could help the city pay for paving city streets and alleys, repair sidewalks, maintain city-owned buildings that have not been properly maintained for years and pay off the Tax Anticipation Loan the city has taken out for the past several years to cover expenses prior to tax money coming into the city.
Residents and any registered voter can sign the petition, and residents should be aware of volunteers knocking on their doors asking for signatures, Lincoln said.
"All we want is to be able to allow the city residents to have a say about eliminating the paid fire department," Lincoln said.
In the event they don't get enough signatures, Lincoln said council can vote to pass an ordinance to place a referendum on the ballot, which would require two public hearings.
Anyone interested in information on signing or circulating petitions can do so by calling 724-628-4960.
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539.
Copyright 2014 - The Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pa.