Pa. Fire Dept. Prevails in Funding Lawsuit

June 19, 2013
The Citizens Hook and Ladder Fire Company in Milesburg has won a lawsuit against Union Township seeking to recover three years of funding.

June 18--Union Township taxpayers will be on the hook for the more than $49,000 in costs that stem from losing the lawsuit in which Citizens Hook and Ladder fire company in Milesburg sued the township to recover three years' worth of funding.

But just how and when the taxpayers will have to come up with the money is being worked out by the township's supervisors.

The cost from the lawsuit, or the exact amounts the township will have to pay and lawyer fees, has become clearer recently after the state's Commonwealth Court ruled against the township in April.

According to the fire company's oversight board, Union Township owes $43,624, plus interest, in contributions from 2010 to 2012 that was never paid as per an agreement the township had with three other municipalities: Boggs Township, Milesburg and Unionville. For 2010, the municipalities agreed to pay the equivalent of 11/3 mills, an increase from 1 mill, and in 2011 and 2012, the rate was 12/3 mills. However, Union Township kept contributing at the 1 mill rate each year.

Union Township will not dispute the $43,624, said attorney William Tressler, whom the township's supervisors retained to defend against the lawsuit.

The township has paid Tressler $5,648 for his legal services, according to the figures the township provided to the Centre Daily Times after a Right-to-Know Law request.

The township also will end up indirectly paying some of the $2,266 in fees billed by the fire company's lawyer, David Engle, because the township is one of the four municipalities that fund it. Divided by four for the number of municipalities, the amount comes out to about $566.

Tressler said Union Township's supervisors are "moving as quickly as possible" to figure out a way to pay the $43,624.

Meanwhile, the officials on the Citizens Hook and Ladder oversight committee voted last week to press Union Township to pay the $43,624 soon. The committee, which includes representatives from each municipality and the fire company, wants the judge who presided over the case in county court, Pamela A. Ruest, to give Union Township a deadline.

Union Township does not have the money to cut a check. As of May 13, the general fund had a balance of $40,850, according to the treasurer's report approved at the June meeting.

The township's solicitor, Terry Williams, said the supervisors are exploring taking out a loan that would have be authorized by a vote during a meeting. The township's secretary-treasurer, C. Rochelle Dubbs, said the loan would have a low interest rate.

The fire company in Milesburg is the first responder for calls in Union Township, a municipality of about 1,400 people in the Bald Eagle Valley just a few miles southwest of the state police barracks and the Bald Eagle Area junior and senior high schools in Wingate, Boggs Township. The average municipal tax bill here is $142, and the averaged assessed value is about $35,510, according to the county's tax assessment office.

Citizens Hook and Ladder sued Union Township in 2010, when the township only contributed the 1 mill of real estate taxes and not the higher amount. Ruest sided with the fire company last year, and the township appealed to the state's Commonwealth Court. This past April, the township got word the court upheld the county judge's decision, leaving the township with the bill to pay.

Union Township's supervisors have not yet disclosed the amount that is owed. At the June meeting, some residents asked Tressler for the amount, but he said that releasing the figure would be the supervisors' call. The supervisors did not say anything. After the meeting, board Chairman Ryland Brower was asked about the amount and he deferred to Tressler.

Union Township is the second-largest contributor to Citizens Hook and Ladder, and this year, the township is set to contribute $44,037.

So far, the fire company received a $4,450.57 payment in April.

Union Township sent a check No. 7913 for $16,566.84 to the fire company in May, but that hadn't been received as of last week, said Karin Knisely, who manages the fire company's finances.

Dubbs, the Union Township secretary-treasurer, said Tuesday the money had not been deducted from the township's bank account and that she would look into the matter.

The largest contributor to the fire company is the most populous municipality, Boggs Township, with its level pegged at $93,350.02.

The smaller boroughs pay the least: Milesburg, $23,329.34 and Unionville, $6,149.50.

Copyright 2013 - Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

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