TOWNSHIP OF WALKER
During a long and sometimes controversial Walker Township Meeting of supervisors on Wednesday, the board voted 2-1 to propose three different proposals to the Walker Township Fire Companyafter years of disagreements over funding.
The two entities ran into a hurdle over how the township should fund the fire company. Since 1999, Walker Township has had a $1 million fire protection tax. To help the fire company budget big-ticket items, more money is needed. The fire company asked the township to increase the fire protection tax to two mills in total, as it said the only guaranteed source of revenue was taxes. Two of the supervisors opposed the tax increase and sought another path.
The average homeowner in Walker Township currently pays between $50 and $85 for fire protection tax, said Chris Harter, president of the fire company. Adding another factory doubles what they are currently paying.
More than 40 residents were in attendance, and many gave feedback and suggestions to supervisors during the meeting, which lasted several hours and included vocal arguments.
Four hours into the meeting, Supervisor Deb Zimmerman made a motion to offer three proposals to the fire company for consideration:
- $300,000 up front to cover the costs of ordering a new vehicle or equipment and then entering into a fire protection contract which states that the township will pay the fire protection company $125,000/year fire, with an initial 20-year agreement “knowing that we would eventually go to a tax increase as well,” Zimmerman said. The contract would be reviewed annually for additional funding and inflation costs, if necessary, a she declared.
- The municipality raises the question of an increase in taxes to 3.01 thousandths to voters during the 2023 election.
- The canton adopts a tax increase of 1 million for the fire tax.
Zimmerman said she would also leave the door open for further negotiations by the fire company.
Supervisor Keith Harter seconded the motion, and it passed 2-1 with Supervisor James Heckman voting against.
Chris Harter declined to comment Thursday morning, saying he wanted to wait to see the proposals in writing before commenting.
About 17 people have officially offered public comment, with the vast majority in favor of providing funding to the fire company in one way or another. Pleas for a resolution and for the board and the fire company to be on the same page were also heard. Others expressed their support for the fire company, noting that they are volunteers and do it for free.
John Toner, a member of the fire company, attended the meeting with his son. Thursday was also his son’s 13th birthday, but instead of celebrating his birthday at home, he said his son wanted to support the fire company. He hopes to join the company next year, when he is 14 years old.
“We do it for free, because we want to help our communities. You know what? My son is here for his 13th birthday, I would have preferred to be home, having ice cream cake with my child. But I’m here to support my brothers and sisters in the fire department and support this community… It’s a great place to live. We have to keep it that way,” Toner said.
The issue between the two entities came to a head last month when the fire company held its own meeting to discuss the future of the company’s finances and the level of fire protection, and to educate the public. on growing concerns and gather feedback.
The management of the fire companies said that if funding continued to be an issue, in the future the level of fire protection could be reduced. This could mean taking out of service vehicles that are critical to the fire company because they cannot afford to repair or replace them. They could also temporarily close the Zion satellite station if utility costs continue to rise.
The following Walker Township Supervisors Meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Walker Township Municipal Building, 816 Nittany Valley Drive, Bellefonte.