Coalport — Council tables talks on fire dept.
Borough was looking to cut contract over ‘financial struggles’
COALPORT — Tensions arose Monday night as firefighters from the Glendale Volunteer Fire Department pleaded with Borough Council members to renew its annual contract.
After a heated exchange, the two sides agreed to table discussions until December. The fire department continues to operate, though first responders and members of the public alike voiced their concern over a lack of commitment from the borough.
“Just a few short weeks ago, 30-plus men put their lives in danger to protect property and life in this borough,” Glendale Volunteer Fire Department Vice President Patrick Hamilton said. “Yet just those same amount of weeks later, this is the ultimate thanks we receive. It’s heartbreaking. It truly is.”
Council members voiced their favor to strike the agreement with the fire department due to “severe financial struggles” the borough faces.
“This is a business decision and nothing else,” said Coalport Borough Council President Paul Zupich. “We are in an incredible financial mess, and we are digging to get out of it.”
Zupich, who was appointed borough council president just under three weeks ago after the resignation of Barby Trent, said terminating the agreement with the fire department was one of many measures he planned to enact in order to help alleviate the borough’s financial troubles.
Zupich said aside from one employee paid 30 hours per week, all borough workers are unpaid.
The borough currently has $42,000 in the bank, but after just stepping in as council president again, Zupich said he is unsure of what bills are yet to come and how it will further impact the borough’s financial situation.
“I’m trying to take a conservative approach here,” Zupich said. “I’m not exactly sure what our financials look like right now. I’d rather make cuts now than be forced to make them later this year. I don’t want snow to fall and there be no money to plow the roads.”
Zupich said the borough has one of the highest tax rates in Clearfield County, with the rate set at 28 mills. This means that residents pay $28 for every $1,000 of assessed value.
Despite collecting high tax payments from residents, he said the borough cannot climb out of the financial hole, adding that the borough has faced deficits and has continually lost money since November 2019.
Zupich alleged that a former, unnamed, borough employee stole “a large sum of funds” potentially reaching $100,000 more than a decade ago.
Because of the borough’s financial concerns, Hamilton said the fire department worked with the borough to negotiate a new price.
Hamilton said the borough and the fire department were bonded in a yearly contract for $7,500 for the department to render services to Coalport Borough, but through the borough’s solicitor, the two parties agreed on a reduced contract for $3,500 and split the payment into two installments of $1,750.
Borough Secretary/Treasurer Mary Sue Hoey said the $3,500 agreement was a donation instead of a contract, adding that the fire department should donate its services to the borough.
Members of the fire department, who were not allowed in the meeting room but waited in the hallway, voiced their displeasure with the agreement being referred to as a donation.
“It’s a signed contract,” Hamilton said. “We signed a contract with the borough to provide our services. It’s not a donation.”
Neither the borough or the fire department could provide evidence on whether the agreement was a contract or donation.
Trent and former council member Robert Lee, who also just recently resigned from borough council, were present to support the fire department.
Trent resigned a few weeks ago after receiving an “ultimatum” from other council members.
“I was told to resign or else things were going to be made ugly for me and my family,” Trent said. “I didn’t really have a choice to resign, so I did.”
She said she regrets her decision and said had she not resigned, the agreement with the fire department “would not have been in question,” adding she would have found a way to negotiate a fair contract with the fire department.
“If I wouldn’t have resigned, none of this would be happening,” Trent said. “The fire company wouldn’t be going through what they are right now.”
Zupich said that he believed the fire department could still operate without the $3,500, but if the borough had to continue to provide those funds, it would be detrimental and potentially “close the doors.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Council Member Shawn Yingling yelled back at members of the fire department. “We have no money.”
Hamilton said the fire department will continue to operate, but working as a volunteer department with minimal resources and funding, he said every penny counts.
To properly equip a firefighter, Hamilton said it costs nearly $10,000, and the purchase and maintenance of a fire truck can cost nearly $1 million.
Discussions also arose surrounding the payment of worker’s compensation.
The Glendale Fire Department is the primary provider for Coalport, White Township and the majority of Beccaria, officials said.
The department also provides mutual aid to Irvona, Reade Township, Dean Township and Ashville.
Zupich said that it was “not right” the borough pays the majority of compensation, adding that the department responds mostly to other municipalities.
He also said the borough pays $12,000 toward insurance for the department, though fire department members said the cost is “much lower.”
Discussion on the issue will continue in December, Hamilton said, and he shared a handshake with Zupich after the two agreed to table discussions.
The former council members said they feel it was an empty gesture.
“I fear their minds are already made up,” Lee said.
While the future of the department is in question, Hamilton said the residents of Coalport and the surrounding areas are in safe hands.
“We are greatly disappointed and will continually serve and protect this community with or without a contract in place,” Hamilton said.
Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.