April 8, 2011
Creating Sustainable, Efficient, and Equitable Emergency Services
Recently, the leadership of the Port Allegany Fire Department (PAFD) has spoken publicly about the future of fire and rescue services in Port Allegany, Annin Township, and Liberty Township. Like many other volunteer fire departments, the PAFD has seen its revenue and volunteerism decline significantly in recent years. If these trends continue unchanged, it is foreseeable that the PAFD would need to reduce the protection levels it provides or, in the worst case, close its doors altogether. This would be a great loss to our community and would negatively impact our citizens through lower levels of protection and increased property insurance rates. At the heart of this issue is the fact that the PAFD currently relies heavily upon volunteer fundraising to fund its operation, and this fundraising burden is driving down volunteerism. In order to resolve these issues the PAFD has proposed that our community give consideration to funding the department more fully through the existing fire protection tax. This change would create a more sustainable, more efficient, and more equitable funding source for the emergency services which the PAFD provides on behalf of our community.
How will this proposed solution achieve the goals of sustainability, efficiency, and equity? More fully utilizing the fire protection tax will create a reliable revenue stream because the revenue generation will not be dependent upon the success of any particular fundraising event. Utilizing the fire protection tax will also unburden our volunteers from the demands of large-scale, continuous fundraising thereby creating a more feasible and enjoyable volunteer experience which should also increase volunteerism within the organization.
Additionally, funding the PAFD more completely from the fire protection tax will be significantly more efficient than fundraising. Annually, the PAFD needs approximately $115,000 to fund its operation. Currently, the PAFD receives approximately $45,000 through the existing fire protection tax which means that the PAFD volunteers must generate an additional $70,000 through fundraising in order to properly fund the department. Historical fundraising data indicates that PAFD fundraising is only thirty percent efficient because the bulk of the revenue collected goes to pay for the cost of fundraising. This means that in order for the PAFD to fundraise the additional $70,000 needed for its operation, it actually has to collect more than $200,000 from the community. Consequently our community as a whole pays more than twice as much for its fire protection than would otherwise be necessary. Reducing the PAFD’s reliance on inefficient fundraising and utilizing the fire protection tax will permit all of the money collected to be applied to public safety costs. The end result is a lower overall cost of emergency services for our community.
Finally, a tax based revenue stream is equitable. Under this proposal, all members of the community who pay property tax would contribute to the cost of the service at an equitable rate based on their assessed property value in the same manner that other government services are funded.
So how would this proposed change affect you, the taxpayer? The answer is “not significantly”. Currently Pennsylvania law allows up to 3 mills to be assessed solely for fire protection services; yet our community currently pays only 0.4 mills. The PAFD has estimated that it could be adequately funded with an increase of approximately 0.6 mills. Therefore, as an example, a property owner with an assessed property value of $50,000 would see only a $30 increase in their fire protection tax. This is a small price to pay in order to maintain our community’s emergency services. It is also much less costly than the alternatives should the PAFD become defunct. It is important to remember however that because this proposal would significantly reduce the need for continuous, inefficient fundraising, our community could potentially reduce its overall cost of fire protection by nearly $100,000 each year. That’s a significant amount of money which could be redirected into savings or to other charitable organizations within the community.
In conclusion, the PAFD is a premier provider of emergency services in our community and our region. It has worked hard to develop and maintain the emergency response capabilities which our community needs. However, in order to maintain these services into the future the PAFD needs a sufficient, sustainable revenue stream and a steady supply of volunteers to perform the work of the organization. Freeing volunteers from the burden of continuous fundraising will go a long way toward improving volunteerism, and utilizing the fire-protection tax revenue stream is a sustainable, cost-efficient, and equitable manner for funding these state mandated public safety services. We urge the community to support this proposal for the future of emergency services in Port Allegany, Annin Township, and Liberty Township. In the meantime, if you have questions about the PAFD’s proposal please do not hesitate to contact the PAFD. Our executive board is identified under the “Personnel” link on our website, www.starhose.com. You may also contact the PAFD by email at email@example.com.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of the PAFD and our community,
David Mark Errick