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Fire department expansion on course in Lehighton

Published December 12. 2011 11:25AM

An expansion project for the Lehighton Fire Department continues to have the green light.

This week, the Lehighton Borough Council gave tentative approval to its 2012 budget, which includes a two-mill tax increase to cover a matching grant that the fire company and borough received.

The matching grant is a $1,750,000 allocation the borough and fire company received from the state. A letter has been received from the governor's office assuring the grant for the borough has been approved.

"This is not a forever tax. The loan should be paid off for the match in 12 years if we only take the $1.75 million," said Borough Manager Nicole Beckett concerning the two mills. "While tax increases are never an easy decision, please keep in mind this increase is going to match $1.75 million in (state) funding. The borough of Lehighton will not be funding the full construction project."

The budget that received tentative approval doesn't include any other tax increases. It is based on a rate of 6.5 mills. The two mills means a house assessed at $34,450 will have an increase in real estate tax for the year totaling $68.90.

The proposed budget was approved by a 5-0 vote by the council. Two council members were absent. Final adoption is scheduled for Dec. 19.

The balanced budget has a General fund of $625,348. It also includes Capital projects $71,752; Highway Aid $133,307; Sewer funds $5,410,353 (includes all funds and investments); and Light & Power $4,106,700.

Garbage rates for the forthcoming year will not be increased.

The budget is based on four mills from real estate and general operations, a half mill designated for fire apparatus and equipment, and now the two mills, which will be deposited into a separate account for the purpose of construction.

Representatives of the Lehighton Fire Department attended the budget meeting and assured the council it has made substantial cuts from its original construction proposal.

A construction manager estimated the cost of the project to be $3,371,980, although the actual figure won't be known until bids are received. This does not include engineering costs.

The project includes the expansion of Station 1 (Lehigh Fire Company No. 1) with Station 2 (the Engine Company No. 2 building, which houses the aerial truck) with additional bays, facilities, and safety features.

Conceptional plans have been drawn up, with the next phase of the project being to have formal plans drawn up before advertising for construction can occur.

A letter was received by the council dated Nov. 16, 2011, from the Governor's Office in Harrisburg, stating that former Governor Ed Rendell released $1,750,000 in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funding for the Lehighton Fire Station Project in December, 2010.

It states that the application was then reviewed by Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

"The Office of the Budget has completed its review of the Lehighton Fire Station project and I am pleased to inform you that Governor Corbett has approved the Commonwealth's commitment of $1,750,000 in RACP funding for this project," states the letter, signed by Charles B. Zogby of the governor's office.

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