Understanding the Township's Obligations for Emergency Services
Many fire company leaders face the annual challenge of requesting financial support from local governments. While some are luckier than others, it is typically the case that the financial support is far below the basic needs of the company to provide adequate service. A well-prepared fire company leader should go into these municipal discussions confident and prepared. One of the first recommended steps is to understand the other side's (the municipality) obligations and abilities under the law.
The laws concerning local government's obligations vary based on the actual designation of a municipality. For example, a Borough and a Second Class Township operate under different laws. In Chester County, Second Class Townships make up a bulk of the local governments. They operate under the Second Class Township Code which I will elaborate on here (I will explore the other municipal codes at a later date and am also happy to discuss individually upon request).
Here are a few of the key items concerning emergency service provision in Second Class Townships. Keep in mind, this is a very general overview:
Provide for Emergency Services within the Township: A second class township is "responsible for ensuring that fire and emergency services are provided within the township by the means and to the extent determined by the township, including the appropriate financial and administrative assistance needed for these services."
The key point: The township has to provide for SOMETHING but there really is no guidance on what exactly they must provide or how they must provide it (i.e. can they simply contract with a company outside the township; ALS vs. BLS; one engine vs. an entire fleet of apparatus; paid vs. volunteer vs. combination). It is only clear that they need to account for emergency service provision in some fashion.
Consultation with Emergency Service Providers: The township has the obligation to "consult with fire and emergency medical service providers to discuss the emergency services needs of the township." This can be an important provision where a township is reluctant to have these discussions - the legal obligation exists under the Second Class Township Code. Oftentimes, fire companies are pushed aside or disregarded. The Township cannot simply ignore its emergency service providers and should be engaging in some type of discussion about the services provided.
Workers' Compensation Coverage: Oftentimes, a municipality will attempt to "inflate" the contributions to fire companies by including things like Relief Association flow-through monies or workers' compensation coverage payments made by the municipality in the township budget. While this has to be done to an extent for good accounting, you should be aware that it is squarely a municipal responsibility to provide for workers' compensation coverage for the volunteer firefighters in the township.
Fire Tax: Recently, the phrase "fire tax" has come up in more and more discussions between municipalities and emergency service providers. While it can be a somewhat complex issue, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
1) The board of supervisors can provide for a tax of up to 3 mills as a fire tax.
2) The tax money can be used to purchase/maintain apparatus, purchase and maintain firehouses, training, "to make appropriations to fire companies located inside and outside the township" and for use in contracting services from an outside company.
3) Up to one half of the tax (but not more than one mill) can be used to pay for career staff. If a township wishes to enact a tax of more than 3 mills, it must go to the citizens for a vote.
The provisions discussed above can be located in the Pennsylvania Second Class Township Code (53 P.S. §66512-68205). For further information and advice in this area, please reach out to me at email@example.com or 484.614.7407.