Pa. Council Looks to Eliminate Only Paid Firefighter

July 30--A public hearing will be held on Thursday concerning a referendum to keep or eliminate Connellsville's paid fire department. A vote by city council is expected to follow.

Connellsville council started the process earlier this month to place a referendum on the November ballot to eliminate the city's paid fire department when members approved a resolution to submit the referendum to the Fayette County Election Bureau.

Mayor Greg Lincoln said New Haven Hose Company Volunteer Fire Department has unofficially been the city's fire department for the past three years. New Haven Hose also receives assistance from nearby volunteer fire stations South Connellsville and Connellsville Township.

The city's paid fire department, through attrition, has one paid firefighter using the East Side Fire Station.

Some residents started a petition last month for the referendum. They needed about 1,000 signatures to be sent to the Fayette County Election Bureau for approval by Aug. 5.

The proposed referendum asks voters whether Connellsville should disband the paid fire department in favor of having volunteer fire protection.

If the referendum is placed on the Nov. 4 ballot, it will be up to residents to decide whether to eliminate the paid fire department.

Lincoln said the action would save the city nearly $100,000 in pay and benefits and free the city-owned vehicle for the health code officer.

Lincoln added that the city would not have to pay the health code officer 56 cents per mile to use his own vehicle. He also said it would allow for the sale of the East Side fire hall, getting the building out of the city's hands and onto the tax rolls.

According to figures released by the city, the cost of keeping the one paid firefighter for 2014 was $76,531.97 -- $49,866.48 for salary, $19,653 for health and life insurance, $3,405.88 for worker's compensation and $3,510.61 for payroll and unemployment compensation.

The city also released figures on the cost to run the fire station.

From July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, the city reportedly paid $13,252.61 to keep the building operating -- $5,448.23 in utilities, $1,656 in insurance and $6,148.38 in other vehicle and building supplies and maintenance.

If the fire station is sold, the city could earn $3,349.87 in real estate taxes because the property is assessed at $466,650.

The hearing will begin at 5 p.m. in City Hall. A vote on the referendum will follow.

"The public is invited to attend to make any comments regarding this referendum before council votes on it," Lincoln said.

If the referendum is approved to be on the November ballot, it will be up to the voters to decide the fate of the fire department.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pa.

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