Palmerton nixes plan to build new fire station
It appears as though Palmerton will not build a new fire station after all.
After a meeting of borough council on Thursday, borough manager Rodger Danielson told the TIMES NEWS a new fire station "is off the books."
"There's no effort to go through with building a (new) fire station," Danielson said. "In light of that, the borough has applied for amended ways to use those funds that's yet to be determined by the state."
Council had previously been undecided whether to build a brand new fire station, or return a $906,000 grant it received that was designed to do just that.
"We sent a letter to the state about a month ago asking for an amendment on how to use the money," Danielson said. "We have had no response."
In March, the borough received a letter from the Palmerton Fire Department with 25 signatures from members who said they wanted the grant money, which was received for the new fire station to be returned to the state because their current facilities were fine as is.
That letter was in response to council's plan as announced in February to build a new fire station near the intersection of Third Street and Avenue B.
At the March meeting, council Vice President Chris Olivia asked the firefighters if they were opposed to building a three-bay garage at Third Street, to which it was stated they weren't if the borough wasn't able to return the money.
Councilman Kris Hoffner said at that meeting the borough could either send the money back to the state; build a two or three-bay building; or send the money back to another fire department in need.
Joe Rogowitz, president of the fire company, said at that time the fire company's preferred option is for the borough to send the money back, or send it to another community in need of it.
Rogowitz said at that time that if the borough wanted to build a three-bay garage, and leave everything at the West End, there wouldn't be a problem. The problem, Rogowitz said, is if the borough would take the trucks out of the West End and move them.
The meeting was in stark contrast to the February session, when nearly 30 members of the fire company swarmed the council chambers opposed to the borough's decision to build a new fire station near the intersection of Third Street and Avenue B.
At that time, firefighters told council to return the grant the borough received in April of 2010 to construct a new fire station. If not, the firefighters threatened to walk out over time.
Council President Terry Costenbader gave a timeline of events at that time, in which he said the process got under way in June of 2009 as part of a meeting held to consolidate both fire companies. Due to the consolidation, the belief was that there should be a new station to house all the equipment at one location.
As a result, Costenbader said the borough applied for the grant. After its third application, the borough received the $906,000 grant for a new fire station, he said.
That June, Costenbader said the fire company formed a building committee, at which point the borough received a letter from the committee with a list of four proposed sites for the station: Renovate the current fire house; put one at Fifth and Delaware Avenue; put one at Fifth and Lehigh Avenue; or put one at the Third Street complex.
In October of 2010, Costenbader said the borough accepted the grant, presented by then Speaker of the House Keith McCall, for the purchase of a new fire station. It was determined at that time that the borough would utilize that grant, along with $35,000 from the borough's general fund, to cover the $940,000 cost to construct the fire station, borough officials said.
From there, council made the decision to build the fire station at Fifth and Lehigh Avenue, and advertised for proposals for its design, Costenbader said. Last February, he said the borough received a letter from the fire company to purchase the properties at 509-511 Lehigh Avenue for more room, he said.
Costenbader read an excerpt from that letter that states "the membership of the West End Fire Company #2 is strongly encouraging you to pursue acquiring the properties at 509-511 Lehigh Avenue."
But, Rogowitz interjected that letter was from a current member of the fire company, who at that time served as fire company building committee chairman, a position from which he has since been removed. Further, Rogowitz said "we never seen the letter."
In March, Costenbader said the fire company committee recommended that the borough hire Steve Elton as architect, which it did in May.
After a meeting in June in which Costenbader and Olivia met with the fire company to discuss concerns about the purchase of those properties, Costenbader said the borough sent Elton to look at the building and issue a report, which he submitted along with the location for a new fire station.
In September, Costenbader said he and Councilman Randolph Gursky met with the membership to discuss the new fire station, Elton's report, and the membership's petition. Later that month, the borough decided to purchase the homes at 509-511 Lehigh Ave. to increase the lot size as per the fire company's recommendation, whereby that purchase would not come out of the grant money, he said.
Costenbader said that in January, council chose not to purchase those properties "due to a problem with the acquisition."
Also on Thursday, borough council, on a 5-0 vote, approved an agreement with the Palmerton West End Fire Company that outlines responsibilities and obligations. Councilmen Jason Behler and Kris Hoffner were absent.
As for the agreement with the fire company, Danielson said it was created to help improve communication between both parties.
"It spells out the relationship between the council and the fire department," Danielson said. "It's to formalize and better understand who plays what role."
Danielson added that the fire company has signed the terms of the agreement as well.
The agreement states that "during any fiscal year in which the borough provides funding to the Palmerton West End Fire Company, then the fire company shall be required and obligated to provide the following information and complete the performances required by this document:
• Before the disbursement of any borough funds, the fire company will provide a written list of the names of fire company members who are authorized to sign checks on behalf of the fire company. In addition, the fire company will provide the borough with a written list of officers, board of directors, and members of the fire company on an annual basis. The fire company shall provide the borough with a copy of its by-laws and amendments to the by-laws.
• Each member of the fire company who is authorized to sign checks shall provide a bond (from a bonding company authorized to do business in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania) for the benefit of the borough in the amount of $20,000 to $25,000, and said bonds shall be filed with the borough. The bonds shall be adjusted based on funding provided.
• By the 15th day of each month, the fire company will provide the borough with an itemized list of dates of all monies collected, and all expenses made from borough provided taxes for the prior month.
• On or before March 31 of each year, the fire company will provide the borough with an audited financial statement of all monies received and expenses made for the prior year by the fire company, which audit shall be prepared and certified to by a Certified Public Accountant.
• During the year 2012, the borough agrees to provide fire protection funding in the amount of $20,000 to $25,000, from which will be deducted the expenditures set forth in paragraph 7 hereof, and the balance shall be paid to the fire company for use for fire fighting purposes only. Funding in subsequent years will be determined by the sole discretion of the borough council. The borough shall have the right to terminate funding at any time.
• The borough will continue to pay the following expenditures on behalf of fire protection in the borough: loan payments on two fire fighting vehicles; sewer, water and solid waste for the West End Fire Company building and the Third Street building; workers' compensation premiums for firefighters (The fire company shall be responsible for providing the borough with a written list of active firefighters for workers' compensation purposes, and the fire company shall immediately notify the borough in writing of any changes to the list of active firefighters); insurance on firefighting vehicles, which are titled in the name of the borough; fire hydrant fees; insurance on the Third Street building used to house fire fighting equipment; and communication center fees related to the fire company.
• The following expenditures for fire protection in the borough shall be paid from the amount of funding that the borough allocates to fire protection in the borough, and shall be paid directly by the borough: loan payments on two fire fighting vehicles; fire hydrant fees; insurance on the Third Street building used to house fire fighting equipment; and communication center fees related to the fire company.
• The fire company will pay, and be solely responsible for, the following expenditures relating to fire protection in the borough: fuel for fire fighting equipment; repairs and maintenance for fire fighting equipment; insurance premiums on all vehicles and equipment owned by the fire company; rents; training; Internet fees; utility fees other than sewer, water and solid waste; and all other costs related to the operation of the fire company.
• The borough shall have the right, at any time, to receive from the fire company, proof of payment of any of the above expenditures within three days of a written request from the borough.
• The borough shall have the right to review the minutes of fire company meetings within three days of a written request from the borough.
• The borough agrees to give the fire company the first right to purchase any fire equipment, and/or vehicles that the borough does not desire to retain, if permitted by law. Any such sale must be in accordance with the borough code and other applicable laws. The borough retains the right to continue to own any fire equipment or trucks, and to acquire fire equipment and trucks in the future.
• Any funding provided, and expenditures made, shall be done in accordance, and in compliance, with the borough code and other applicable laws.
• Either party, with both in agreement, shall have the right to reasonably modify the responsibilities and obligations of the fire company, and either party shall have the right to terminate this arrangement at any time.
• This document contains the entire understanding between the parties, and supersedes all prior agreements, discussions and understandings relating to the subject matter hereof. No provision of this document may be amended or waived unless such amendment or waiver is agreed to in writing and signed by the parties.