After several years of consideration, Henderson Township’s board of supervisors has pledged support for local fire companies in the form of a one-mill tax increase.

Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday night that raises the real estate tax by one mill and dedicates those funds for services provided by Mill Creek Volunteer Fire Co. and Huntingdon Regional Fire & Rescue.

The increase will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, raising the township’s tax rate from 2.5 mills to 3.5 mills.

Township officials estimate the hike will add $30 to $40 on average to property owners’ tax bill. Mill Creek Fire Company chief Mike Swanger reported that another municipality in the company’s immediate coverage area recently passed a similar resolution and said the most dollar increase anyone saw, that’s he’s aware of, was around $50.

The resolution states: “The Board of Supervisors believe that in order to adequately provide the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township that a special fire tax levy of one mill is necessary and appropriate at this time.”

Chairman Richard Focht said fire company contribution has been under discussion since 2017. The board drafted a resolution last year with the intent to pass it in December and enact in January, but decided instead to table their vote to give the matter more thought.

Former supervisor John Fyock told the room one mill will generate $14,000, give or take. The township will divide the funds equally between the two fire companies.

The motion to adopt the resolution was made by Max Hess and seconded by Focht; both cast “yes” votes while supervisor Justin Hilling voted against the measure, saying, “I believe there are different avenues that need to be checked into.”

Residents in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting expressed sentiments for and against the resolution.

“As a homeowner, $50 to me for having these gentlemen come out and save me and my children is worth it,” Bobbi Jo Gearhart said. “I don’t understand why it’s even a question.”

Bob Colfelt objected to the increase, saying if the township is going to enact a tax hike, it should go toward a tangible improvement, such as repairing and upgrading roads.

“There are so many other issues in the township,” Colfelt said. “(The increase) provides no additional funding to improve the township and that will be a hard pill for a lot of residents to swallow.”

Swanger said the estimated $7,000 per year the fire company will receive from the township represents less than one-tenth of the company’s overall operating costs, but noted the funding is appreciated. As is common for the area’s volunteer fire companies, Swanger said the Mill Creek crew works daily on fundraisers, in addition to answering EMS and fire calls, to keep up with operating costs.

He noted that the proximity of the fire companies to the township already saves taxpayers money in the form of lower insurance rates.

“For what we do, is it (the one mill) not worth it?” he asked.

Swanger was joined at the meeting by Tim Furlong, one of HRFR’s district chiefs.

Focht noted that over many years, the township has made various contributions to the fire companies, such as donations here and there and assistance with workman’s compensation; the resolution passed Tuesday night represents the first-ever contribution that will be made with consistency year after year.

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

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