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Chambersburg Residents React to Increased Fire Tax

Starting next year, Chambersburg Borough residents will see a higher property tax.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Starting next year, Chambersburg Borough residents will see a higher property tax.

The controversy surrounding the fire tax began when the Greater Chambersburg Area Paid Firefighters Union and the Chambersburg Town Council could not agree during contract negotiations.

Under Act 111, an arbitrator was brought in to settle the dispute, and it has been about three weeks since he ruled the Borough of Chambersburg needs to increase firefighters' salaries.

But in order to pay those higher salaries, the Council decided this week to raise its property tax. Chambersburg residents will be paying about an extra $40 a year in taxes. That will amount to about $3 extra per month to help bridge the funding gap needed to fully fund the professional fire department.

For mother of two, Tricia Inverso, news of the tax increase comes at a bad time for her family.

"[My husband] works for the government at Letterkenny and they just started furloughing their employees because the government shutdown,” said Inverso. “We'll be, within a few days, not having any income at all."

Council members say the arbitrator's decision, which forced the Borough to raise taxes, was unfair.

"Average family income is about $33,000-$34,000,” said Chambersburg Borough Council President Bill McLaughlin. “So when you start…taking money from people with those kind of incomes, it becomes significant."

According to the Council, the average Chambersburg firefighter makes about $52,000-$55,000. They say the 13 percent wage increase they will have to pay those firefighters is therefore unreasonable, especially due to their stretched budget.

"When you add the total cost of benefits they receive, their total compensation is $93,000," said McLaughlin.

Some residents agree with the Council. They want to see the money go towards other things.

“I don’t agree with the decision,” said Chambersburg resident Dewayne Hogue. "[The tax money] should go towards education, maybe something for school programs."

The Council says the arbitrator's decision was the result of a flawed arbitration process under Act 111.

The fire tax applies for the next three years starting January 2014, and Council members say that when those three years are up, they will try to renegotiate with the firefighters union. Until then, they say they are going to try and amend Act 111, which they say is an outdated law that supports an unfair arbitration process.

The Chambersburg Firefighters Union did not respond to requests for comment on this matter.

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