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E.A. May Alter Firefighter Tax Relief Plan

Citing budget concerns, board members may put a limit on proposal

By T.J. Martin
The Tube City Almanac
February 15, 2024
Posted in: North Versailles Twp. News

(File photo by NZDave via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)

Volunteer fire department members who are homeowners in the East Allegheny School District will have to wait a while longer to find out how much, if anything, they’ll receive as a tax break from the district to thank them for their service.

Last month, the school board voted 6-1 to give volunteer firefighters in the district who meet certain criteria an annual property tax break of up to $3,000.

The proposal was designed to help fire departments within the district — Crestas, Fire Department of North Versailles, Wilmerding, West Wilmerding and United, which serves East McKeesport and Wall — retain their members and attract new ones.

Only School Board President John Savinda voted against the measure, saying, “we are $5 million in the hole.” After the meeting, Savinda said his vote was not against the firefighters, but due to his concern about the cost of the proposal.

The proposal was put in a 30-day notification process and during that time period, apparently some other board members began to share Savinda’s concerns.

At this month’s meeting, school board member Daniel Ziober proposed a cap of $1,000 per volunteer on the tax break.

Board Member George Yusko Jr. cited the district’s deficit, and said he believes any tax break offered under Act 91 of 2020, the state law which allows for such an exemption, should be offered not by the school district but by the municipalities which comprise the district.

East Allegheny serves students in North Versailles, East McKeesport, Wilmerding and Wall.

Yusko said he would be agreeable to a school district tax break program with an overall cap of $25,000.

Board Member Merle Pusey, who also serves as assistant fire chief of the West Wilmerding Volunteer Fire Department, said 17 current members of the volunteer fire departments qualify for the proposed tax break. Thus, Yusko said, with a $1,000 cap, eight new members could be awarded the incentive.

With these new parameters being proposed, board vice president Tisha Thomas proposed that the measure be tabled and referred to the board’s finance committee to come up with a new proposal for the board to vote on. Her suggestion was approved unanimously by the board.

District Solicitor Joseph Cavrich of Andrews & Price LLC said the board could table the proposal for another 30 days. He said if the board only lowers the individual cap to $1,000, they could vote on that at the next board meeting.

However, if they alter the proposal by capping the entire program at $25,000 or otherwise substantially alter the proposal, the board may have to approve that new version of the plan, Cavrich said, and place it in another 30-day notification period, during which the revised proposal would be advertised.

After the meeting, Pusey, who initially proposed the tax break and abstained from last month’s vote on the proposal, said he understands that some members of the board felt that a cap of $3,000 under the initial proposal was too high.

He said the board needs to be fiscally responsible while still showing their appreciation to the volunteer firefighters.

T.J. Martin is a freelance writer from Trafford whose work has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Irwin Standard Observer.

Originally published February 15, 2024.

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