In an effort to educate the residents living in the coverage area of the Parkesburg Fire Company about the current fiscal situation the company is in, the board has scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. All residents of Parkesburg Borough, West Sadsbury Township, and Highland Township, as well as the municipal officials of those areas, are invited and encouraged to attend the forum, which is designed with a question and answer format."As long as they want to stay and ask questions, we will stay and answer them to the best of our ability," said Chris Smith, a trustee of the fire company. "The fire company has nothing to hide.
"This meeting is for public education only," Smith continued. "What the residents of these municipalities need to understand is that this is their fire company. There's not one person in this building that's in this for their own benefit."
When the current board took charge in January 2008, they realized that their budget is very much in the red and that acquiring additional funding is crucial to the survival of the company.
In August, Fire Chief Raymond Stackhouse presented a proposal to the Board of Supervisors in West Sadsbury to increase their annual donation to the fire company to three-quarters of a mill.
The same request was made to the Parkesburg Borough Council.
After numerous meetings with representatives of the fire company, Parkesburg Borough decided to dedicate the dollar amount of three-quarters of a mill to the fire company in 2009.
West Sadsbury has not yet made their decision. The supervisors have publicly stated that they are not willing to enact a tax increase on their residents, though said they will look to see if their donation to the fire company can be increased as they work on next year's budget.
As was reported in the Post Ledger last week, Cindy Mammarella, township secretary, told Stackhouse in an email about the board's unwillingness to increase the taxes on the residents.
In response, Stackhouse replied that without the tax funding, "it may come down to the company looking at whether or not we can continue to provide the services that we currently provide for West Sadsbury."
Smith explained to the Post Ledger Tuesday that this statement made by Stackhouse was not intended as a threat as it is completely factual.
He explained that the chief was not saying to Mammarella that the company could possibly pull their coverage of the township or that they could possibly refuse to respond to a call.
What Stackhouse meant, as explained by Smith, is that without an increase in funding, the fire company may not be able to provide the same level of service. Any number of things could be affected by insufficient funds, including response time, the number of emergency responders, the amount of equipment available for the emergency, etc., Smith said.
"We need financial support from the municipalities in order to continue to operate and provide the same level of service," Smith said.
An itemized budget for the fire company shows that the company's total expenses for 2008 are $339,715, while their total income is $284,382.
According to both Stackhouse and Smith, the fire company has been operating in the red for quite some time. In 2008, the board went through two key personnel changes as Stackhouse took on the role as chief and Tina Myers was named treasurer.
"They really opened our eyes," Smith said, who has been a trustee with the Parkesburg Fire Company for nine years.
"And I'm certainly not saying that the old chief and secretary were incompetent," Smith said. "They were working to the best of their ability. But the people that we have now have now have a greater scope of ability."
He explained that Stackhouse, in addition to being Parkesburg's fire chief, is a paid fire fighter codes enforcer in Caln Township, which has provided him with years of experience in operation. He added that Myers is very experienced in bookkeeping and that he himself has spent 16 years in the business world as a purchasing manager.
"To say the management skills of the Parkesburg Fire Company have diminished is a statement of ignorance," Smith said. "If anything, they have increased."
In the time between the initial proposal in August and now, the West Sadsbury Township supervisors requested a detailed budget from the fire company, which, according to Act 7 of the Township Code, they are able to require before considering additional funding to the organization.
Smith said he made several attempts to schedule a time to sit down with the supervisors when he would present and explain the budget to them. As a mutually agreed upon time could not be met, the line item budget was delivered to the township office on Tuesday, Nov. 25.
Smith said the supervisors put "little effort into making a meeting.
"We have tried to meet with the township umpteen times and have been readily available on a number of occasions," Smith said. "They have chosen not to sit across the table from us."
He also said that the act, also known as House Bill 668, requires the emergency service organizations to provide the township with an itemized listing of all expenditures of "these" funds, 'these' referring to funds from the township.
The township's annual donation for 2008 to the Parkesburg Fire Company was $12,000.
"We can very easily provide details of how their funds are being spent," Smith said. "It covers approximately six weeks of payroll for our paid staff. That's the only line item we would have to provide them with. Their funding equates to four percent of our annual budget."
The Parkesburg Fire Company, which includes fire and emergency medical services, contracts four paid personnel to cover the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
When the new board took over in 2008, they were concerned by the 20 percent scratch rate for the ambulance (which is the rate of dispatched calls that the company was unable to respond to). Since ensuring that two responders are always available during the key time that scratches were occurring, the scratch rate has been reduced to five percent.
"If we are lacking funding, what do we do?" Smith said. "We have to make cuts and the biggest line item (making up 60 percent of the annual expenses) is the ambulance. I hate to say it, but what do you think will be the first to go?
"Elimination of services is our last resort," Smith said. "We will certainly do anything in our power to keep providing these services until we reach bankruptcy, then it's completely out of our hands.
"If we were to continue to operate on a loss," Smith continued, "bankruptcy may be 10 years away, probably less."
The West Sadsbury Township supervisors suggested that the fire company approach the businesses in their coverage areas for additional funding. Supervisor Don Markward specifically suggested the Wawa in the township and the commercial developers of West Sadsbury Commons as potential donors.
Smith's reply to that suggestion is, "Why does the fire and ambulance company have to do this? Do the police have to do this? Does the streets department? We are a municipal service the same as any other. Why do we have to go in the street and beg for money?"
Smith continued to say that 'asking' for money is all that is in the power of the fire company to do. "We can't say 'or else' because 'or else' what?" Smith said. "We can't say we're not going to come in an emergency because we are going to come.
"It's up to the municipality to pass legislation to force the businesses to give us money if that's where they want it to come from," Smith said. "We have no power. They have the power. They're the ones that establish through codes and regulations where the funding comes from."
West Sadsbury Township typically adopts their budget during the December supervisors meeting, which this year is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 9.
It is unknown at this time what their decision will be on the tax funding increase.
"The township is going to what ever they decide to do at this point," Smith said. "All we can do is educate the public on the situation at hand and they can decide whether to let things run status quo or to step up and improve the situation."