Whitehall-Coplay Press

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fire department is seeking reimbursement

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 by Kathy Lauer-Williams Special to The Press in Local News

Chief says proposed ordinance could help defray costs of equipment

Whitehall Township residents could see their insurance billed for costs of fire equipment used to assist them in emergencies.

At the township board of commissioners workshop meeting May 7, board members discussed a proposed ordinance that would allow Whitehall Township Fire Department to seek reimbursement for some of the costs of responding to an emergency.

Fire Chief David Nelson said the ordinance would allow the fire department to use Pennsylvania Fire Recovery Services, based in Macungie, to recover some of its costs to respond to fires and accidents in the township. He said the ordinance could generate $30,000 to $40,000 annually.

Nelson said other fire departments in the region, including Easton and Emmaus, have started using the service to help defray the costs of equipment. The volunteer fire department can’t bill for labor but can bill for equipment costs.

Nelson also said most homeowners and car insurances have set fees built in for fire emergency response, and the township has not been collecting it. He said, for example, an insurance company might allow $500 for fire emergency response. He said the fire department would not seek more than the insurance’s set fee, even if the actual costs are higher.

“Our goal is not to go after residents,” Nelson said. “We just want to go after insurance companies to collect set fees that are already set aside for this. If it’s already allotted, why not get it?”

He said if the ordinance is passed, the fire department could bill for any 911 fire emergency to which it responds in the township.

Commissioners also discussed installing a sound-activated camera in the township public meeting room.

Deputy Mayor John Meyers said the township had received a bid of $5,300 from Vistacon of Allentown to install the new camera that would be able to automatically focus on whomever is speaking at a meeting.

Board President Dennis Hower said the board wants to post the videos of meetings on the township website “so residents can see what’s going on in the township.”

“It is different reading words on paper than seeing people’s facial expressions as they talk,” Hower said.

Commissioner Joseph Marx Jr., who also is on Coplay-Whitehall Sewer Authority, said the authority installed a new audiovisual system in its meeting room two years ago, and the authority is very pleased with it.

“We had a lot of success with it,” Marx said. “This is the way to go.”

Rob Piligian, a member of the township planning commission, lauded the plan and said he has heard developers call the township meeting room “rinky dink” because they can’t bring in their laptops and do PowerPoint presentations on a screen at township meetings.

“The technology is there,” he said. “I hope this is a first step, and there are other steps behind it.”

Meyers said if the board wants to make the meeting room a presentation center, it would need to be put into next year’s budget.

Commissioners also discussed partnering with Wildlands Conservancy of Emmaus to apply for a state Department of Community and Economic Development grant to put in handicapped-accessible access from the parking lot to the Jordan Creek Green- way, as well as add signs and install a riparian buffer along Jordan Creek.

Board member Jeffrey Warren, who talked to the conservancy about the proposal, said the grant application is due at the end of May.

“The conservancy is a class act,” said Philip Ginder, board vice president. “Anything we can do to work with them is worthwhile.”

The grant would be for $30,000 to $40,000, according to township Mayor Michael Harakal Jr., and the township would have to commit around $5,000 through funds and in-kind services. Harakal said most of the work would be done by the township as in-kind services.

The project would connect the parking lot along Mickley Road with an ADA-compliant ramp to the access point of the Greenway Trail. Other amenities proposed for the site include a demonstration rain garden, wildflower plantings, picnic table and interpretive signs. The project also would include planting a riparian buffer downstream of Route 22 near the Home Depot parking lot between the trail and Jordan Creek area to protect the stream from erosion.

The board agreed to continue to discuss the plan with Wildlands Conservancy.

“It’s our burden to make that land accessible,” Meyers said.

The next board of commissioners meeting is 7 p.m. May 14 in the township municipal building.