Harrisburg firefighters are burned up over a state funding stream they claim is dedicated to them, but only receive a small portion. A state senator explained Harrisburg is receiving every penny in some way.
As soon as the state budget came public this summer, a headline for Harrisburg was a ‘record $5 million for fire protection'. In July, abc27 reported only $400,000 was actually dedicated to the department. Harrisburg Receiver William Lynch said the remaining $4.6 million in state grants would be spent to pay down the city's outstanding bills and the deficit.
Lynch released his ‘Harrisburg Strong' debt recovery plan this week and called for the same $5 million state funding in fire protection and public safety services ever year until 2016. According to the plan, that cash would help balance the city budget. Harrisburg firefighters and representatives with the local IAFF 428 fire union were puzzled why they would continue to see a small portion of that money.
State Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) sat down with abc27 on Wednesday to explain.
"I don't think the funds should be viewed as a windfall to the city or to the fire department specifically," he said. "And, I think some of the misunderstanding maybe in viewing the money that way...where really it's a reimbursement for service provided."
Teplitz pointed to previous years when Harrisburg received $1 million or less in state funding for fire protection services, therefore, forcing the city of Harrisburg to cover the costs and adding to its financial failings in part.
A table from ‘Harrisburg Strong' showed Harrisburg received $2.5 million in 2012, $987,000 in 2011, $987,000 in 2010, $1 million in 2009, and $1.25 million in 2008.
Vice President of the local union said many firefighters felt duped when the record $5 million in fire protection was touted. He spoke with abc27 last week about fire protection concerns in Harrisburg and spoke about the need for increased funding.
"With five million dollars we could actually replace...our entire fleet could be replaced," he said. "We need the man power, we need the equipment to do the job."
The ‘Harrisburg Strong' plan projects about $1,000 will be spent a year on ‘vehicular equipment' from 2014 – 2016.
Teplitz said he has been ensured the money will be spent in the proper way, "The issue of using the money for fire service, using the money to balance the city budget are one in the same," he said.
Along with State Representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), Teplitz said they are trying to secure the $5 million state funding stream for fire protection a permanent fixture.
"Hopefully in future years, the city can invest that money into equipment, training, etcetera…That the fire department thinks it needs," said Teplitz.