YLEH: Primary election ballot question on funding fire departments

Local News

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — For the primary election, state and local races are on ballots across our region. There are also four referendum questions; question #4 deals with funding for municipal fire departments.

The question ask voters to allow municipal fire departments to have access to a loan program that can help them improve their equipment, while saving the departments and taxpayers a lot of money.

“Right now, only volunteer fire departments are able to get money from the loan program which is at 2%. It allows beyond volunteer departments for the municipal departments, which is roughly 40 in the entire state,” stated Representative Aaron Kaufer

This includes the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department. The question was needed to amend the current law, that was passed in 1975, that restricted the loan fund to only volunteer fire companies.

The thought at the time was that municipal-owned fire departments, such as Wilkes-Barre have more financial resources than the smaller communities that rely on volunteer fire departments.

“It’s about making sure we have quality adequate services. These municipal departments are excluded from currently,” said Representative Kaufer

“To give the municipal fire chief another tool in his tool belt,” said Chief Jay Delaney of the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department.

Delaney says even larger fire departments that have paid firefighters are also up against a financial wall when it comes to purchasing new equipment.

“Money is tight everywhere that you go, and it’s critical to be able to have this low-interest loan money available to all fire departments all across the commonwealth, not just Wilkes-barre,” stated Delaney.

Chief Delaney understands that some smaller fire departments are expressing concerns about the fund which now contains about $47 million dollars.

“It’s been a very solvent loan fund since 1975 to the point where the legislature has removed some money to balance the state budget, because there has been excess money,” said Delaney.

We spoke with fire chiefs from volunteer fire companies who say, they support a yes vote on the question. But still expressed a wait-and-see approach as to how this will play out in the years ahead.

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