Deep files can be a problem.


The difficulty is that while I am leafing through the material in a file (meaning the old fashioned, hard copy kind) looking for one thing, I see so many other things that I have to read.


Focus, Marti. The topic at hand was fire protection. I needed to learn more about the history, the traditions and practices, and the formal agreements concerning fire protection in our three closely allied municipalities: Port Allegany Borough, Annin Township and Liberty Township.

Here is a story that ran on October 10, 1985.


The possibility that Annin Township may be without fire protection was a major development of a lengthy borough council session, held Monday evening in the Fire Hall.


Public Safety Committee member Terry McCormick, who has been negotiating fire protection rates with Liberty and Annin townships, reported agreement with Liberty Township for an increase in annual payments for fire protection from about $4,000 to $6,000 plus workmen’s compensation.


A similar agreement has been proposed to Annin Township, McCormick added, with an increase from its present $1,300 to $3,000 plus a share of workmen’s compensation. Even that increase, McCormick indicated, will mean a smaller per capita payment from Annin citizens than borough residents have been paying.


Upshot of the discussion is that lacking any agreement with Annin Township prior to the November 4 regular council session, the borough will consider canceling that township’s fire protection contract.


Under such conditions, the township would have the option of organizing its own fire department, entering an arrangement with another fire department, or for individual property owners to make their own arrangements.


The story is not bylined. It ran in our favorite local daily. I was working for the Olean Times Herald then, but probably not doing regular news coverage for this paper. I don’t know who wrote this story, but I do remember that issue and others mentioned in that story.


Bids on demolition of the former Conrail depot were also opened at the session…Looked as if Little Joe’s Excavating, Coudersport, was the low bidder.


Somebody from the company that had just built the state police barracks at Mt. Jewett showed the borough the floor plans and suggested that his company could build “a similar brick structure” for between $150,000 and $170,000, which was $70,000 lower than the architect’s estimates.


The borough council was meeting in the fire hall in those days—the fire hall as it was before the big addition was put on. I remember attending many meetings there.


Some of that time Larry Brundage was fire chief. He was quite determined to have the borough council pass a law prohibiting open burning. Said he, “I want to know that when I go through town and I see smoke, there is a real fire.”


I didn’t use my little charcoal grill again for at least a year. Fortunately for me I had quit smoking some years before that.


Brundage’s crusade was just one manifestation of the purposeful attitude of the fire fighters. (I tend to call them that, because Francis Byron, a Buffalo Courier-Express editor, indoctrinated me with the belief that firemen work on steam locomotives, shoveling coal; but union agreements require that there be firemen on diesel locomotives as well, not shoveling but featherbedding. People who fight fires are fire fighters.)


Fire fighting has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, it is more expensive. Equipment is different. Even what fire fighters wear is different. Regulations are more complex.


Do you remember what you paid for gas or heating fuel, electric, water, sewer, gasoline, a few years ago? How about 20 years ago? Are government services more costly now, as reflected in the tax rates we pay? Is health care more costly? Insurance?


As for fire fighters believing that the volunteer fire department and its quarters are their social club, and membership in that select group is payment enough—well, if that was the case for any members in the past, likely it isn’t anymore.


Will luscious Marcellus Shale impact fees or extraction taxes feed local government coffers in the near term, or for a long time? Perhaps such revenues will be a tasty snack, or perhaps they will be a good meal, but conventional sources of fiscal nutrition still will be needed.


So perhaps it would make sense for the municipalities needing fire protection services to dedicate some millage to it (in the case of those who don’t do so now), or to increase the dedicated millage (in the case of one that does so now). Then use the shale-related windfalls for other needs that would otherwise consume property tax revenues.


One way or another, fire protection must be provided at municipal expense, and must be obtained. How much will it cost a given municipality, and how will they pay for it?


Seems to me that is a matter that requires serious, careful, and collaborative consideration among the affected municipalities. Beginning soon, and continuing until a good solution is found, with some conclusions reached before 2012 budgets are buttoned up.




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