Local officials only need to look at a town located near Scranton in Lackawanna County to see how bitter residents feel about more taxes.

Arguably one of the most important expenditures in any municipality is fire protection.

Dunmore voters on Tuesday cast ballots on a referendum to finance their fire department. They were asked if they would support a separate tax of nearly 25 mills solely for fire department operations in 2011.

The additional millage would have brought in about $2 million to cover salaries, uniform allowances, supplies, and a fire truck loan payment, among other operating costs.

Voters in the town crushed the proposal by nearly a six to one margin. The lopsided vote was 4,022 opposed and only 681 in favor.

Eighty-five percent of the voters are against the additional taxes.

A community of 14,000 people, Dunmore has a unionized fire department which has a manning clause requiring the town to employ at least 15 full-time firefighters. So the borough will still have fire protection.

It will be up to the borough now to budget the fire protection in 2011, which will be a tough task considering it already is at its taxing capacity and has $14.5 million in long-term debt.

None of our local communities have paid fire departments, but volunteer units are having more and more difficulties with manpower and meeting operating costs. Fundraising efforts in virtually every community are a constant struggle during these tough economic times.

We wonder how local voters would react to a 25-mill tax increase to help firefighters. Like Dunmore, voters would probably soundly reject it just because they couldn't afford it.

Dunmore is just one small dot on the map when you compare it to the entire state. But the message sent by its voters Tuesday looms large.

It's a message that should be heard by all leaders, not only in municipal government, but in the halls of our legislators in Harrisburg. People can't afford government the way it's run now and they are letting their officials know it.

Dunmore officials have been buzzing that bankruptcy could be on the horizon.

We're very fortunate that we have all volunteer units. All that's happening in that borough should make us appreciate how well off we are that volunteers are still willing to do the dangerous task of fighting fires, responding to accidents, and helping with other emergencies.

Political leaders should take heed at what happened in Northeastern Pa. on Tuesday. And stay tuned, because the general financial story of Dunmore isn't over yet.

Worse, it mirrors the murky financial situation of more and more municipalities, including some local ones.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com