Baldwin Borough firefighters seek guaranteed funding

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Members of Baldwin Borough’s Independent Fire Co. No. 1 plan to meet with borough officials to determine a course of action for the company’s financial obligations.

During an often-contentious exchange at last week’‍s council meeting, fire Chief Kevin Kenny asked for a multiyear guarantee of the borough’s annual contribution to his company and discussed the possibility of a tax dedicated to fire protection.

A January landslide damaged the parking lot of No. 1, which serves the northern part of Baldwin, and the company expects to incur some $300,000 in expenses as a result.

The borough’s 2014 allocation to the company of $76,000 was provided in full the day after the landslide. Usually, payments are made quarterly.

Baldwin has two other fire companies, South Baldwin and Option Independent. Each receives about $45,000 from the borough, according to Michael Stelmasczyk, council president, who said the number of buildings they serve determines the funding amount.

The borough also pays for insurance for fire vehicles, supplemental workers’ compensation, fuel and other items in addition to the monetary contributions, John Barrett, borough manager, said.

“When you factor in those other things, the contribution is probably twice that,” he said.

In a letter addressed to Mr. Stelmasczyk, which he received July 15, Zach Luncinski, president of No. 1, wrote the company seeks a guarantee that its allocation from the borough will continue:

“I am requesting a letter, signed by yourself, your fellow council members and Mayor [David] Depretis stating that our funding will remain at its current amount, or more, until 2025. This guarantees that the fire company will be able to satisfy any current loans and will be able to still provide fire and rescue services to the borough.”

Mr. Stelmasczyk countered that the current council cannot make such a commitment on behalf of future elected officials.

He also refuted the “rumors,” as Mr. Luncinski wrote and Mr. Kenny reiterated at the council meeting, that the borough is considering any reductions.

“This council has never stated anywhere that we’‍re looking at cutting their funding,” Mr. Stelmasczyk said.

He suggested the company bolster its fundraising efforts, perhaps conducting a drive specifically to address the damage caused by the landslide.

The company receives “a meager 30 percent return on our annual fund drive mailing,” Mr. Luncinski said.

No. 1 has about $400,000 in a mutual fund investment, but the firefighters are earmarking that amount toward improvement on their Churchview Avenue facility and the eventual purchase of a new aerial truck, the only one among Baldwin Borough’s three companies, to replace the current 1996 model, for which No. 1 still is paying.

A new “base-model, unequipped ladder truck would be approximately $900,000 to $1 million,” Mr. Luncinski said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kenny requested the borough’s assistance in securing a $300,000 loan to cover the damage caused by the landslide, along with necessary sewer repairs in its aftermath.

“We will pay you back, with interest,” he told council.

He also said borough fire officials have discussed the viability of a fire tax, possibly 0.5 mill, to help the financial situations of the three companies.

With regard to the potential fire tax and other issues brought to council by No. 1, borough officials said they need to take a close look at the company’s financial statements, which is one of the intents of the coming public meeting between the entities, which is yet to be scheduled.

“You’ve got to justify the things you do. We’re asking you for the paperwork that supports all this,” Councilman Francis Scott. “We don’t know if we have all the answers, but we’re certainly willing to try.”

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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