State money for Harrisburg fire service cut by $2M

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In the budget that passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Wednesday, lawmakers cut $2 million in aid to the City of Harrisburg to pay for the fire bureau’s protection of state-owned buildings.

This year, the state gave the city $2.5 million to cover the state’s roughly 40 buildings in Harrisburg. In next year’s budget, that drops to $496,000.

“I won’t be surprised if we have to lay off firefighters. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t upgrade our equipment where it doesn’t pass inspection. I just think a lot of bad things will happen if we don’t get this money,” said state Rep. Patty Kim (D-103rd).

The state doesn’t pay property taxes on its buildings, so this funding is meant to offset the cost the city has in providing fire service.

Kim said that service costs the city about $4 million a year. So, even the $2.5 million the city got this year doesn’t cover expenses entirely, she said.

“We’re in such a pivotal position where we could fall into bankruptcy or actually get better, that this $2 million to $4 million deficit could really hurt Harrisburg,” said Kim.

The state has cut back on fire protection in the past.

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the state’s allocation dropped from $1 million to $496,000. The state later made up the difference with a $500,000 grant. The amount wasn’t increased to $2.5 million until this year.

In explaining the reduction to $496,000, House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said, “That’s where it’s been for a number of years. That’s why we brought it back down.” He went on to say,” There were many discussions. That’s the number they came up with.”

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson didn’t seem concerned about the situation Thursday. She said the city’s been in this situation before and negotiated with the governor and other lawmakers to get at least some of the funding restored. She says she and the city’s receiver, Maj. Gen. William Lynch, already are working on doing that once again this year.

“I spoke directly to the (governor’s) Chief of Staff and was assured that money would get restored,” said Thompson. “And, that’s where we are right now. We’re not dealing with the what ifs.”

The budget heads to the Senate, where it still could be amended as well.