SHENANGO VALLEY Intergovernmental panel tackles questions concerning merger study

The subcommittee studying fire protection hasn't come up with a plan that pleases everyone.
WHEATLAND, Pa. -- Can a new home-rule charter municipality have separate fire protection districts within its borders for taxation purposes?
That's just one of the legal questions the Shenango Valley Intergovernmental Study Committee is trying to get answered as it looks at the feasibility of consolidating the municipalities of Farrell, Wheatland, Sharon, Hermitage and Sharpsville into a single, new community.
The committee is developing a proposal for a new city and has a variety of subcommittees handling the plan's specific aspects.
Fire service
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is how to provide fire service over an area that has four different types of departments.
Sharon has an all-paid department, while Hermitage has a paid chief and assistant but all volunteer firefighters.
Farrell has some full-time, some part-time and some volunteer firefighters, while Sharpsville and Wheatland have all-volunteer forces.
Tom Lally, a Sharpsville councilman and firefighter, is chairman of the fire subcommittee and told the full committee Tuesday that his group has so far been unable to come up with a plan that pleases everyone.
The latest suggestion under review would divide the new municipality into the same fire districts, Lally said, explaining that departments would remain intact and continue to serve their specific geographic areas.
That creates some tax inequities, however, because everyone in the new city would be paying the same level of taxation yet some people would be getting full-time paid fire protection while others would still rely on volunteers, he said.
He said some volunteer firefighters also are objecting to that proposal, saying it's unfair for them to volunteer their services in a new city while others are getting paid for the same duties.
What about the cost?
Lally added that there is a question about how much fire protection will cost in the future.
The ranks of volunteers are gradually declining, and under a single, new community, those spots would probably have to be filled with paid firefighters, greatly increasing fire protection costs, he said.
Lally said his subcommittee is trying to put some figures together to find out what those costs might be and also is seeking legal advice on the issue of separate fire districts within a single municipality.
The committee is expected to come up with a final report some time this summer. If a consolidation is recommended, a plan will be presented to the five municipal councils.
The issue could go before the voters in 2003 and, if approved, a new government could begin operations in 2006.

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