Irwin fire chief says budget cuts will impact services

October 4, 2018

Irwin Volunteer Fire Department

Irwin Volunteer Fire Department may have to sell its rescue truck and stop pumping flooded basements and cutting downed trees if its budget gets slashed, the fire chief told borough officials.

“We can’t provide the same level of service with the budget cut. The only way to cut fuel costs is to get rid of one truck -- the rescue truck,” Chief Justin Mochar told borough council this week during a review of the proposed 2019 budget.

With less money from the borough, Mochar said the fire department would have to consider eliminating response to non-emergency calls, such as pumping flooded basements, going to the scene of downed power lines or cutting trees felled by storms.

Mochar said when a heavy rainstorm drenches the area, the department may get 30 to 40 calls.

“I don’t want to get to the point of chopping services,” Mochar said, noting the department provides some 200 services to the community. “In a dollar and cents world, maybe these are things we can’t do.”

The amount of the proposed budget cut remains in dispute between department and borough officials. The fire chief said based on initial budget projections, the borough is proposing a 26 percent cut -- from $60,700 to $44,000.

A $16,000 cut “is too big of a hit for us,” said Mochar, who has been chief for eight years. He said the department holds fundraisers two and three times a month. He doubts it can raise more money to cover the anticipated deficit.

Council President Rick Burdelski said the 2018 fire department budget was around $44,000, not $60,000. But he explained the borough also pays for certain expenses related to fire department operations, including insurance costs.

“We need to hammer it out so they understand what we are paying,” Burdelski said.

Borough officials plan to meet privately with fire department representatives to discuss the budget.

Council had discussed giving the fire department a lump sum of $44,000 for next year, then letting the department decide how to spend it on training, fuel and insurances that it currently covers.

Councilman Mike Yunn said he would like to see how the fire department would spend the $44,000.

Based on an initial draft of the 2019 budget, the borough faces a deficit of about $180,000. Projected expenditures are about $3.9 million, with revenue estimated at $3.7 million, without any additional revenue generated by a real estate tax hike. The borough has not decided if it will implement an amusement tax on tickets sold at events such as concerts, movies, live theatre and comedy acts.

In 2018, Irwin raised real estate taxes 11 percent. It was the second time in three years the borough hiked property taxes.

Mochar asked if the borough was looking to cut expenses by a targeted amount, such as 8 or 10 percent.

“Right now, we’re just trying to cut” expenses, Burdelski said.

The borough could cut the budgets for the police and fire departments and public works by 10 percent and “let them make the decisions” on spending the money, Councilwoman Debbie Kelly said.

“We’re way over budget on everything. We have to cut,” Kelly said.

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