Fire Service contract puts heat on municipalities

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

WAYNESBORO—Waynesboro Borough Council has decided to end First Due Fire Service to Washington Township following a breakdown with contract negotiations, however emergency responders will continue to serve residents in the township.

The current contract expires Dec. 31 and the two municipalities have been in talks over the annual Fire Service contract since August.

To date, Washington Township has paid what has been billed to them per the current contact, according to borough officials.

But the decades-old formula for setting the levy no longer meets the needs of the citizens of the borough, according to Waynesboro Borough Manager Jason Stains.

Back and forth

Stains said Washington Township accounts for 45% of the total service area of the Waynesboro Fire Department. “If Washington Township were asked to pay the entire 45%, they would be responsible for $370,761, based on the 2021 fire operating budget,” Stains said.

The Borough has asked Washington Township to pay $150,000 for continued service in 2022.

Talks stalled after Washington Township Board of Supervisors refused to pay more than $125,000 for continued service in 2022.

“We offered them $125,000,” confirmed Washington Township Manager Jeff Geesaman. “We budgeted a 21% increase over last year. They wanted $150,000 minimum.”

Geesaman said the borough department has fewer trucks than it did years ago.

“They are actually providing us fewer assets than they were,” he said. “They have made no bones about it. They want to get rid of volunteers and want paid staff. We can’t afford a paid staff.”

Last year, the township paid $103,000, which was based on five paid borough drivers.

Township officials estimated that $125,000 was a fair cost for the service—21% higher than last year’s requested contribution and said they have always paid one of the highest contributions for fire service compared to the other townships in Franklin County.

Geesaman said the borough’s last offer required the township to pay 45% of the borough’s annual Fire Department budget, but allows the township no input to the budget, operations or expenditures.

Geesaman said the only concession extended by the borough was to offer a cap for the term of the new contract which would set the township’s cost at $371,000 per year and to allow up to nine years to reach the full payment. 

“When we told them there’s no way we could do that, they came back with same proposal, but three additional years to pay. They gave us multiple options to reach that full payment, but it all ended up in the end, we were paying 45% of their budget,” Geesaman said.

Stains argues the township’s advertised 2022 budget carries forward a balance of $56,363 from their fire tax that could provide the additional $25,000 without passing a tax increase on to their residents.

But Geesaman said Waynesboro isn’t the only fire company to serve the township and the funds left in the budget are needed to cover an increase for both companies.

“Right now, our total fire tax is 1.7 mils—a total of $230,000 divided by 4,200 households. If you do the math, we were gonna give Blue Ridge Fire & Rescue $105,000 and Waynesboro $125,000, which means we’re paying the whole $230,000 for fire protection. We were willing to try to keep the $50,000 we saved last year so we can make a least one increase [to both companies] without having to raise our taxes.”

Borough officials raised taxes in the 2022 budget for both the Police and Fire Departments.

“It is not the responsibility of Waynesboro taxpayers to subsidize Washington Township,” Stains said.

He said Waynesboro will continue to support other fire departments on various call types, however, the primary focus must continue to be the Borough of Waynesboro.

On call

When a fire call comes in from Washington Township, there is a “first due” company, meaning that company’s chief is in charge of each incident and in most areas of the township, “first due” is Waynesboro’s Fire Department. But that doesn’t mean that is the only fire company that will respond to an incident.

There is also “mutual aid” response.

In Washington Township, multiple fire departments will be called to respond to an active fire, including Blue Ridge Fire & Rescue, Mont Alto, Site R, Fountaindale, Emmittsburg, Thurmont, Greencastle, Leitersburg, New Franklin, Marion and more, depending on the severity of the incident.

Geesaman said while the lack of a Fire Service agreement with Waynesboro may mean that company won’t be the one to respond to water in the basement or a tree down, there will still be fire company response when residents call for a fire.

“The borough’s much higher offer caused us to analyze our fire service. We examined the nature of the calls in each area of the township,” Geesaman said. “There’s no worry. We did this with the understanding that any fire call or incident of any serious nature will trigger an automatic dispatch of several fire companies at the same time in order to assure timely and adequate response time. We have contacted each of these departments and have ascertained a commitment on their part for continued service. Washington Township will continue to be serviced during emergencies through mutual aid.”