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THE MAYOR’S SPECIAL REPORT: Rescue Hose Co. and paid firefighters

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.
Echo Pilot
Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

So the side porch sittin’ days are getting short though much of the past weekend was beautiful. Thanks for joining me for a few minutes. Grab something hot or cold to drink and join me. Saturday night, Jack Hayes asked me “who writes your articles?” Thanks for reading them, Jack.

And so on the day of this writing (Oct. 4) we begin year 95 of National Fire Prevention Week. “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen” is this year’s theme as unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires. In 1925 then-President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first national commemoration. Let’s see … the Rescue Hose Company was in its 29th year of service to this great community then. Here's your homework assignment! Right now, test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Be sure to pick a special day to change the batteries. Don’t have a detector? Go now to a local store, purchase one and get it mounted immediately. Need help? Call the Rescue Hose Company.

Two weeks ago I wrote that I would author information, from my perspective, of Rescue Hose Company staffing as the FD’s administration has asked both Greencastle Borough Council and Antrim Township Supervisors for funding assistance for staffing (paid firefighters/EMTs). I’ve been an active member of the Rescue Hose Company for 47 years, serving in many capacities including president, EMS chief and administrator. The calls for service volume is incredible. In 2019, the company responded to around 2,300 emergency calls. All fire/EMS organizations are challenged with limited staffing ... truly few serving many. With the growth, especially in Antrim Township, increasing baby boomers (like me) in Greencastle-Antrim, mental health and overdose incidents, the calls will increase.  

Antrim Township would use funds from their reserve account while Greencastle Council members have committed to up to 1 mill of a real estate tax to review for the 2021 budget (calendar year). Of all taxes collected by municipalities and school districts, real estate taxes are certainly the most unpopular. The likelihood of Harrisburg shifting taxes from real estate to additional sales and use taxes is unlikely as that has been discussed for decades. 

So for Greencastle property owners, let’s discuss what up to a 1 mill tax would mean. Your borough property tax rate is 15 mills. The other boroughs in Franklin County are around 30 mills. Typically boroughs provide more services than townships and provide services to adjacent municipalities (residents and businesses) that increase the tax base to those surrounding municipalities thus their real estate taxes may be lower or zero. It’s the Pennsylvania system. Your total millage for all real estate taxes in Greencastle (school, county, municipal and library) is 162.07. So, 9% of your real estate taxes go to the Borough of Greencastle. Breaking down what Tina and I pay for the annual 15 mills, its $21.80 per mill for our big old home. I encourage you to pull out your spring, 2020 real estate tax statement, take the third block amount marked BORO; divide that amount by 15. This is your per mill dollar amount. Again, ours is $21.80 per mill. Municipalities in Pennsylvania are responsible for our health, safety and welfare. We are blessed that Greencastle and Antrim do not need to fully fund the many services provided to this community by the Rescue Hose Company over the past 124 years.

I’ve been very clear regarding future FD paid staffing. The need to provide partially paid services already exists at many Franklin County fire companies and emergency medical services. With more and more fragmented paid systems this leads to a recipe for operational failure down the road as we compete with each other for quality personnel to serve in paid capacities. The various municipal codes need to be edited in Harrisburg for county governments (via the County Code) to provide emergency services paid personnel staffing (similar to Maryland) to allow for more efficiency; deploying of resources where they are needed; more grant opportunities; and equitable funding. Did you see where Washington County, Maryland, was recently awarded nearly $5 million dollars in federal funding for staffing and equipment? Do you think that would occur in Franklin County with over a dozen fragmented systems and 23 municipalities?  

Here’s what happens ... every department provides “mutual aid” now more than ever as staffing of volunteers is very limited. Greencastle goes to Marion, Mercersburg, St. Thomas, Waynesboro, Maugansville and other municipalities to help out, while those departments come here to help us out. You see, it’s a regional personnel service so county staffing would allow for equitable funding, less duplication of staffing services and better deployment of personnel. I’m often asked “why did so many pieces of fire apparatus respond on a working fire?” It’s the needed staffing, not so much the apparatus that transports the firefighters. 

 My recommendations are certainly outside the box. When I offer my thoughts at public meetings, I see a lot of emergency service providers' heads shaking in agreement. A huge mountain to climb, however, I’ve planted the seeds. 

Thanks for reading. Support each other. Continue phoning your family and friends and please ... continue to support our local G-A businesses. We are blessed.