Community under fire Common misconception about Lititz Springs Public support for fire company dwindles

By on September 28, 2011

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

As of Tuesday, Lititz Fire Co. No. 1 has responded to 458 calls this year — 213 in Lititz, 179 in Warwick Township, 22 in Penn Township and 18 in Manheim Township.

That’s nearly two a day.

Answering those calls are 18 active volunteer firefighters, 15 of which are qualified to enter a burning building.

"That’s pretty busy," Deputy Chief Mike Smith pointed out during his address to council. "It’s not like it used to be, when once a week we’d throw the doors up, get the rigs out and drive ‘em around to air them out."

Active volunteers put in approximately 300 hours of training and operate like a professional company. During Fire Prevention Week, starting Oct. 10, Lititz will join firefighters from Rothsville and Brunnerville to educate approximately 4,000 children in local elementary schools and daycares about fire safety. Meanwhile, these volunteers have full-time jobs.

On Tuesday, Smith and Assistant Chief Mike Michael discussed budgetary concerns with borough council.

One of their biggest concerns is the diminishing financial support of the community.

Smith said 8,300 letters were mailed to residents and businesses for their annual fund drive. They’ve received a 20 percent response, for about $126,000, to date. The annual budget for the fire company is $250,000.

After commending the local firefighters’ dedication, Borough Council President Karen Weibel called out the public.

"It is absolutely shameful, as far as I’m concerned, to know the lack of commitment that the residents of this community have for supporting the volunteer fire company," she said.

The overall fund drive response from local businesses is lower than residential response, Smith added.

The fire company is also hoping that the borough will bring back a five percent inflator, which was discontinued for budgetary reasons, to its annual donation.

Currently, the borough gives the fire company approximately $100,000 a year, according to Weibel. When the fire hall was removed from the borough building in the 1970s, counsel agreed to give the fire company an annual $15,000 maintenance fee. While that fee has stayed the same for nearly 40 years, maintenance costs have risen to $68,000, according to Smith.

The borough also gives the fire company $43,000 per year for its apparatus fund. Prior to 2006, the borough increased its donation by five percent each year. As budgets tightened, that raise was eliminated, but over a 20 year span it will cost the fire company about $1 million dollars. Considering the expected replacement of Lititz’s ladder truck in 2030 will cost an estimated $1.8 million, the five percent makes a big difference.

The remainder of the borough’s current donation is in the form of workers’ compensation, which Weibel said will continue.

"I am well aware of the stagnation in the donation," Weibel said, adding that council will continue to discuss its contributions as they work on their budget proposal for 2012. Lititz Springs Park is a private recreational facility that is open to the public. Most don’t realize that, said Park Board President Ron Reedy.

"We’d like to get this out there, because people think it is a public park, paid for by the taxes of the borough," Reedy opened in his address to council, "but it is not."

Owned by the Lititz Moravian Church, Lititz Springs is one of the oldest parks in the nation, dating back to the Revolutionary War, and is a major attraction for the borough. It is 100 percent non-profit and is maintained through community donations. It’s biggest fundraiser is the annual Fourth of July celebration.

Reedy said this year’s fund drive, in which 9,400 residents were contacted through mailers, yielded a six percent response, for about $27,000.

The park also includes the Lititz Welcome Center, which gets 18,000 to 20,000 visitors each year, and the Memorial Square at the intersection of Broad and Main streets. It is maintained by a park superintendent and five part-time volunteers. In addition, local Scouts, the Lititz Women of Today and the borough’s public works crew donates labor each year.

The park budget for this year, according to Reedy, is $221,700 in anticipated expenditures and $240,500 in anticipated receipts.

The borough’s annual contribution to the park, which will be under review during upcoming budget talks, is approximately $10,000.

One major problem the park will have to deal with soon is the rapid deterioration of the log cabin at the rear of the park, which was once used as a meeting place for Boy Scouts. Reedy said the park board is currently working on a proposal for the cabin. Lititz Borough will soon start holding budget planning sessions, and the municipal purse strings are expected to be tight in 2012.

Two iconic institutions were at borough hall Tuesday night to plead their cases for continued funding. Representatives from the Lititz Fire Company and Lititz Springs Park gave their "state of the union" reports to borough council: " It is absolutely shameful, as far as I’m concerned, to know the lack of commitment that the residents of this community have for supporting the volunteer fire company.

Karen Weibel

Borough Council President " More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A5

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