$300K private grant for vehicle could be lost
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The township’s Board of Supervisors declined to pay for a share of the replacement cost of a new rescue vehicle for Longwood Fire Company Monday night, after an at times testy exchange between the fire company’s chief and board members about whether the truck needs to be replaced, as well as long-term costs for local fire protection.
For the second month in a row, Longwood chief A.J. McCarthy made his case before supervisors to help fund the more than $800,000 vehicle. He noted that a private grant would pay for the first $300,000 in costs, with three municipalities, East Marlborough, Pocopson and Pennsbury picking up the rest of the cost over a five-year period. Kennett Township is paying for another vehicle, and would not be included in this purchase plan.
McCarthy said that Pocopson had agreed to pay the cost and that he was working with Pennsbury officials to support the purchase.
Township officials balked at the total, especially in light of being asked to fund the department at a cost of $337,000, or about 15% of the entire current township budget (the same figure was quoted for neighboring Pocopson and Pennsbury, and because of smaller annual municipal budgets, would amount to about 30% of the annual municipal budget). All three municipalities fund other fire companies as well — meaning the local governments would have to massively increase local taxes or drastically cut other services, from paving to snow plowing.
East Marlborough, despite recent increases and a dedicated fire tax, currently gives Longwood about $144,000 annually, while also supporting the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company. The township has been the most aggressive in funding local fire companies — other local municipalities have lagged when it comes to funding fire protection.
Another issue: the current Longwood Rescue vehicle is a 1998 model with about 40,000 miles on it. Supervisors questioned whether replacement of the vehicle is really a need, or a want — especially in light of the other needs of the department in the coming years, including plans to build a new firehouse for between $5 to $7 million.
“There are a lot of fire companies in Chester County who would love to have that truck,” supervisor Bob Weer said of the current vehicle.
McCarthy countered by saying a delay would impact the long-term vehicle replacement plans for the department.
“That’s just kicking it down the road,” McCarthy said.
But the long-term vehicle plan is a concern, as well, officials said.
“I really have a problem trading this vehicle in, we’re going to be setting a precedent,” supervisor Eddie Caudill said. “Whose to say you’re not going to be asking for $100,000 (next year) for a new pumper?”
McCarthy said he was pushing for this because of the opportunity to have some of the vehicle paid for with private funds.
“I thought I was going a good job getting 30% of it paid for a private donor,” he said.
Officials suggested that with the quilt of fire companies and municipalities — as an example, both East Marlborough and Pocopson fund Longwood and Po-Mar-Lin (the latter also funds Good Fellowship EMS), while Kennett and Pennsbury fund Longwood and Kennett fire companies — a more regional approach to fire coverage needs must be looked at so there can be a rational spending plan in the years ahead.
“That’s the question the region needs to address,” Supervisors chair Cuyler Walker said. “The municipalities in the region need to get an appreciation of what is going to be necessary going forward.”
After much discussion, it was clear that no motion was going to come forward to fund the new vehicle.
A clearly frustrated McCarthy asked if the township was prepared to make up for the likely loss of the $300,000 grant — much as it has paid Po-Mar-Lin an annual stipend of $18,000 when neighbors furiously objected to a cell phone tower being placed at the fire company, but supervisors did not address the question. McCarthy said he felt that supervisors were willing to compromise on public safety just to keep taxes low.
“You’ve just demonstrated the level of service you want,” he said.