West York borough to keep paid fire service, lay off one firefighter

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The West York Borough Council reversed course Monday and voted to keep its paid fire service by shifting some resources in the budget and making cuts elsewhere.

The borough will furlough one police officer, Ryan Thomas, effective Jan. 4 to Feb. 19, and permanently lay off one firefighter, Brad Dunham, effective Saturday.

There will be no increase in taxes.

"Trust me, we wouldn't be making this decision if there was another way to soften the blow," borough manager Shawn Mauck said of the job cuts.

The borough council previously voted not to renew its contract with the West York Fire Department after the current contract expires Aug. 31, as a way to save money without raising taxes. 

That move would have cost the jobs of two full-time and four part-time drivers with the fire department. The borough would then have moved to an all-volunteer fire service.

West York Borough Office, 1381 W Poplar Street.

But Mauck said several residents and stakeholders reached out to the borough to ask if there was another way to salvage the department, which will now retain two full-time firefighters and a few part-timers.

"We were able to make the Christmas miracle work," Mauck said.

If the economy improves next year, he said, both Thomas and Dunham could be called back to work.

Municipalities across the county have had to dip into their reserve funds or raise taxes to balance their budgets in 2021 because of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In West York, the borough council has rejected any tax increases for 2021, including a 0.5-mill increase and a 0.25-mill increase Mauck had proposed early in the budget process.

On Monday, Mauck suggested a modest 0.15-mill increase to provide a financial cushion for the borough, but the council rejected the idea with a 4-3 vote.

Council members Lisa Gross, Regina Scott and Alan Vandersloot voted in favor of the increase, but Mary Wagner, Wayne Leedy, Linda Heiner and Mildred Tavarez voted no.

The council also voted to put the fire department's ladder truck out to bid to see how much money it might bring in and allow them to buy a more affordable apparatus.

The fire department and the volunteer association each have a ladder truck, Mauck said. With fewer paid firefighters on staff, Mauck said it would be easier for the fire department to operate a mini pumper or a regular engine truck, which would also cost less than the ladder truck.

Brad Dunham, a driver with the West York Fire Department, asked the borough council Monday to put him on furlough instead of cutting his hours.

In another bid to save money, Mauck encouraged the council to support the union contract proposals from the fire department and the public works department to avoid the potential costs of arbitration.

At the end of the meeting, Tavarez said the borough needs to create a capital fund for the fire department as soon as possible to avoid being in this situation again.

"What happened today, this is like a Band-Aid," she said. "It’s a dam, and it’s leaking and it’ll continue to leak."

Mauck agreed and said that members of the public who want to help get that capital fund started can drop their donations in a Christmas card and send it the borough, even if it's only $5 or $10. 

"We will monitor daily the proceeds we get in, put that money in escrow and be able to use it to offset the cost of this department," he said.

More:West York might walk back axing paid firefighters

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