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Fighting fire with tax hikes draws pushback

Plus, Wolf 'looking into' Trump photo with state police.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 9, 2022
Fire tax, asked and answered, water wars, debt mountain, crypto scandal, Trump photo, and Queen Elizabeth's Philly visit. It's Friday.

A Centre County fire department's push to stay afloat amid rising demand and costs is pitting fire officials against local leaders. 

Walker Township's volunteer fire company says a doubling of the fire protection tax rate is needed to sustain operations there.

Local officials who oppose raising taxes disagree, and one wants to bundle increased funding with more oversight of the company.

Jerry Ozog, of the Pennsylvania Fire & Emergency Services Institute, said the dynamic is not unique to Walker Township and will be seen in communities statewide as volunteer companies continue to do more with less.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Talk of a tax increase is driving a wedge between leaders of a growing Pa. township and its fire company.

THE CONTEXT: Ninety percent of Pennsylvania fire companies are volunteer-run, and more are turning to public tax dollars to survive.  

Among the reasons: private donations that have grown less reliable over time and fundraising activities that were disrupted by the pandemic.

A study by the state's Department of Community and Economic Development will look at five Centre County companies — Walker Township's included — to potentially outline a roadmap for companies in similar straits.

Ozog said the deadlock over taxes in Walker Township illustrates a larger shift in the working relationship between volunteer fire companies and local governments, as the business of public safety continues to change.


"We're calling on the governor to intervene, to get us back to the bargaining table."

—Kristen Krusnoski, one of the striking nursing home workers who rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday; the strike is entering its second week
» AP: Fetterman agrees to one U.S. Senate debate against Oz
» CNBC: Oz owns shares of companies making COVID drug he backed
» FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Will abortion stay legal in Pennsylvania?
» LNP: Smucker declines LNP debates, in part due to 'bias' (paywall)
» VICE: A QAnon-touting election denier could soon run Pa. elections
Summer symmetry, via @samanthasearsmusicSend us your photos and art, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
CAPITOL Q&A: You have questions about how Harrisburg works, Spotlight PA has answers. Reporter Stephen Caruso answered three reader questions about lawmaker per diems, the difference between speaker of the house and majority leader, and how caucuses work and why some are secret. Have a Capitol-related question of your own you want answered? Submit them to scaruso@spotlightpa.org

NO DEAL: Aqua Pennsylvania has exited talks to buy the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority after its $1.1 billion bid was rejected in a major win for opponents of the takeover. Per The Guardian, it would have been the largest privatization deal in U.S. history. But Spotlight PA reported last month on a bill moving through state legislature that water executives say would make such acquisitions easier.

MASSIVE DEBT: The Pennsylvania Turnpike has more debt than the state of Pennsylvania, according to a new report by Pennsylvania Auditor General Tim DeFoor. The turnpike is $13.2 billion in the red, while Pennsylvania's total debt is $11 billion, per KDKA-TV. DeFoor's report cites millions of dollars in missed toll collections and says continuing to raise tolls to tackle the debt is an unsustainable solution.

COIN CASE: Customers who lost access to millions of dollars in bitcoin in the largest cryptocurrency scandal in Pennsylvania history fear they're never getting their money back. The Post-Gazette (paywall) reports more than 100 Pennsylvanians have been impacted by the sudden spiral of a Philadelphia-born bitcoin mining venture now at the center of a federal lawsuit and Ponzi scheme allegations.

PHOTO OP: Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is "looking into" a photo of former President Donald Trump and dozens of uniformed state police taken during Trump's Wilkes-Barre visit last week. According to PennLive's reporting, the picture was supposed to be private but was shared by Trump publicly without permission from the state police. PennLive says it's unclear if department policies were violated.

ROYAL VISIT: Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday at the age of 96. 6ABC recalls her role in commemorating America's independence from Britain at bicentennial celebrations in Philadelphia in 1976.

TWEET STORM: A CMU professor's tweet wishing "excruciating pain" for Queen Elizabeth over the harmful legacy of British colonialism was removed by Twitter, per TribLIVE. The university also condemned the message.

POWER PLAN: Fifteen Centre County entities — local governments, schools, water authorities, and more — are pitching in on solar energy that could cover their electricity needs for the next 25 years, per WPSU.

BEER BLITZ: What does 400 cans of beer being made in a minute look like? This video taken by TribLIVE's Joyce Hanz at the Pittsburgh Brewing Company's new production site in East Deer Township.

ZERO STARS: An Ardmore mom is now "terrible sandwich mom" after their child's brutally honest school lunch review went viral. The Inquirer (paywall) says it was a butter and jelly sandwich, but the butter had turned.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Note: We're going back to basics for the next week, so no theme or "guess the theme" feature, but they will return.

Yesterday's answer: Decisive

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Susan R., Kim C., Susan D., Marty M., Bette G., Dom A., Beth T., Becky C., Rebecca M., David S., Susan N.-Z., Jim A., Eddy Z., Don H., Michelle T., Suzanne P., Ted W., John A., Ed M., Dan W., Ed R., George S., Kevin M., Bill S., William M., Jane R., Doris T., Alissa H., Elaine C., Starr B., Nancy S., Mike B., Daniel M., Moon M., James B., Kimberly D., Jessica C., Dianne K., Rick A., Joel S., John P., Steve H., Stanley J., David W., and John H.
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