Coaldale homeowners will likely have to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay their property tax next year. Council on Tuesday voted to approve a proposed budget that calls for a 2.5-mill tax increase. A special meeting will be called within weeks to adopt a final budget.

The levy would bring the tax rate from 20.54 to 23.04 mills. That means the owner of a home assessed for taxes at $25,000 will pay $576 in property tax next year. That's $63 more than this year's bill.

The spending plan anticipates about $1.5 million in expenses. Each mill generates about $20,000.

Council had initially proposed a 2-mill tax hike, but added another half-mill to the proposed 2011 budget after listening to an impassioned plea from Fire Chief Richard Marek. This year, council allocated 1 mill for fire protection. The additional half-mill means the volunteer fire company would receive 1.5 mills, or a total of $30,000, next year, said council President Sue Solt.

The volunteer firefighters desperately need the money, Marek said.

"We're in trouble. Quite frankly, I don't know if we're going to make it through this year," he said.

Marek pointed to dwindling revenues this year's fund drive netted only a 27 percent return and a spaghetti dinner drew fewer than 50 people and steadily rising fuel, maintenance for its aging equipment, insurance and utility costs.

"The bottom line here ladies and gentlemen is, we're going to have to close our doors if we don't get some financial help somewhere," he said

Councilwoman Nancy Lorchak at first explained to Marek that the borough had cut all it could from the budget to try to make ends meet, and that meant eliminating any increase in the fire protection tax.

"We cut everywhere we could possibly cut. I realize you need money. However, with the increase in workman's comp, and just the expenses to run the borough, there just isn't enough to go around," she said. Lorchak said the borough has lost about $50,000 from its tax base.

"It was a hard decision," she said.

Fire company President Kevin Steber also spoke, saying that in addition to fighting fires, the volunteers also help police, pump flooded basements, painted the borough flagpole this summer and recently rescued a cat trapped under a concrete slab.

In addition to the fire tax, line items that council anticipates spending more for next year include secretarial, from $13,562 to $20,605 due to the hiring of a part-time clerk; engineering, from $1,000 to $5,000; building/general government, from $76,370 to $80,072; health and human services, from $1,500 to $1,700; sanitation, from $183,760 to $249,390; highways, from $177,750 to $190,400; snow removal, from $17,500 to $22,500; street signs, from $3,000 to $6,000; workers' compensation, from $22,700 to $45,000; and liability insurance, from $17,345 to $18,306.