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South Williamsport, PA
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County Hall Corner: Money Well Given and Well Spent

Sometimes history is made, and no one notices it happened. This was the case at the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting on Thursday, July 21st, when the commissioners voted to award $20,000 each to the 28 fire companies in Lycoming County from Act 13 funds. The commissioners routinely disperse funds to many different organizations outside of

Sometimes history is made, and no one notices it happened. This was the case at the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting on Thursday, July 21st, when the commissioners voted to award $20,000 each to the 28 fire companies in Lycoming County from Act 13 funds. The commissioners routinely disperse funds to many different organizations outside of county government, so this did not appear to be more than just another agenda item. Yet, according to some sources, this is the first time in at least three decades that any board of county commissioners has allotted funds to each of the fire companies in the county.

To credit this present board of commissioners, it has not for lack of trying. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) allocated $6.15 billion to Pennsylvania counties and metropolitan cities, with Lycoming County receiving $22 million. Ideally, these were funds to assist organizations that suffered through the COVID shutdowns and would help them to get back on their feet.

Like many other non-profit organizations, volunteer fire companies saw almost all their fund-raising efforts either limited or eliminated by their shutdowns. However, these funds precluded fire companies due to the Act’s tax-filing status and procurement regulations. These companies were also not eligible for funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Ironically, other non-profits were eligible, but fire companies were not.

However, Act 13 Impact Fees did not have these same restraints. These funds come from the gas industry to help relieve the ‘impact’ of the gas industry’s operations to the environment and community stability in the Commonwealth. Yet, like a Gumby toy, the impact fees over time have become a grab-bag for almost any organization in the county.

The commissioners noted that the requests for these funds exceed the $22 million in the Act 13 funds account. Even discounting the organizations that would not qualify, they could go through those funds in a couple of weeks if need be. In seeking to establish some parameters, the commissioners wisely consider two factors very highly. First, they believe that the funds should have a generational impact. This is sort of like the Greek proverb that a great leader is one who plants a tree that he will never be able to sit under. The second consideration was that these funds should be used for leverage. Commissioner Mussare noted that currently, they are seeing a $7 return for every $1 spent.

This board of commissioners has continually shown a sincere concern for the viability of the local fire companies and emergency services in general. This action of disbursement is not coming from tax money but from the grant money from the Commonwealth.

Twenty thousand dollars might seem like a lot of money, but to be perfectly honest, it does not go far in fire services. When the Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company bought a new truck last year, it replaced one that was roughly two decades old. The trucks were fundamentally similar in their purpose, and the new truck came from the same company as the one it was replacing. But the cost of the truck in 2021 was almost three times what the price was in 1994!

And what is known as “turn-out gear,” or what the rest of us would call the firefighter’s ‘suit’ runs into the thousands. Going head to toe — helmet, $350; goggles, $75; breathing apparatus with one spare bottle, $6,500; jacket/pants combo, $1,800; fire gloves, $75, boots, $450. This does not include axes, flashlights, safety harnesses, radio, etc. And all of these items have only a ten-year life cycle and then must be replaced.

Given all this, $20,000 is certainly appreciated, but a drop in the bucket when considering that beyond the firefighters themselves, they must continually be up to date on their training, the vehicles must be continually maintained, and firehouses use utilities like electricity and heat just like our own homes. The cost of maintaining a volunteer fire company is staggering.

Yes, many groups and organizations have great needs, and the commissioners need the wisdom of Solomon to distribute these funds where they will do the most good. Given all this, the Lycoming County Commissioners deserve a virtual pack on the back for their action in this case because it is a symbol of support for every volunteer firefighter and emergency responder in our county.