NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The board of supervisors on July 14 put Newtown Borough on notice that it intends to begin charging it $300,000 a year for full-time fire service.
In a 4 to 0 vote with supervisor Dennis Fisher absent, the board directed its solicitor to draft an amendment to the township’s fee schedule that would levy a fee on Newtown Borough of $25,000 a month for fire services retroactive to Jan. 1.
The supervisors took the action after behind-closed-doors negotiations between the township and the borough failed to yield a negotiated fee and an intergovernmental agreement.
During those talks, which supervisor John Mack termed “difficult,” the borough offered to pay up to $118,000 a year, less than the annual cost for one paid firefighter, which equates to about $150,000, said Mack.
“We were willing to come to a lower number than $300,000, but (Dennis) Fisher and I felt they were unmovable,” said Mack. “They kept going back to the number of calls and they had a complicated formula that to me seemed just like a way to stall. They weren’t willing to compromise beyond the $118,000. That’s why we broke off the discussions.”
Under the proposed fee schedule revision, Newtown Borough would be responsible for paying the township $300,000 a year for fire service in the borough.
The cost breaks down to $25,000 a month and is based on the amount of time firefighters spend in the borough on alarm calls, according to township solicitor David Sander, who will be drafting the amendment.
After the amendment is drafted, the board of supervisors will then vote on whether to move forward with the revised fee schedule.
According to Fire Chief Glenn Forsyth, about 14 percent of the calls to the department are for the borough.
“What happens when they don’t pay the invoice,” asked Mack.
“We’d have to take legal action against them to enforce our fee schedule,” said Sander.
When asked by Mack how much that could cost the township, Sander said it could be in the thousands depending upon how aggressive the borough is in its appeal.
“You talk about legal fees in the thousands, we’ve been paying thousands of dollars to our firefighters every time they go into the borough,” said Chairman Phil Calabro. “We have been trying to negotiate this for years.
“For them to establish their own fire department it would cost $4 million to $5 million,” argued Calabro. “Or they can pay the township $300,000 a year. That’s what they should be explaining to their residents. Seems like simple mathematics to me. Maybe this will wake them up,” said Calabro of the motion.
Supervisor David Oxley asked, “Is there something deeper on their financials where they just can’t pony up the dough because it’s obviously necessary for the residents of the borough and they obviously know they have been getting a free lunch. I would encourage us to be firm in this decision as we move forward.”
Mack said the borough “has us over a barrel. You can’t deny them fire service. That would be unconscionable,” he said.
“I understand that,” said Calabro. “It’s three million dollars or $300,000. I’d like to see them explain that to its residents.”
While the borough doesn’t have an agreement in place, it has been paying $32,000 to the NFA annually to cover workman’s compensation. Beginning this year, it is also contributing an additional $23,000 a year towards operating expenses.
The borough, however, does not pay anything toward the paid, full-time firefighters who cover the borough and the township during the day.
The township instituted a paid force in 1996 to supplement the local volunteer fire department’s response to calls.
The Newtown Fire and Emergency Services today has a staff of eight full-time career firefighters and a full time chief complete paid for by the township.
The career firefighters respond to calls weekdays between 6 am and 6 pm while volunteer firefighters answer alarms in the evening and on weekends.
The career firefighters operate out of Station 55 at the township complex on Durham Road and while the volunteers respond from Station 45 on Liberty Street in Newtown Borough.
The township’s 2021 budget allocates $1,171,225 for career firefighter salaries, benefits, supplies and training, which equates to $146,403 per firefighter a year.