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Pa. city votes no on tax for additional EMS funding

Voters had been asked if they supported the tax hike for “the operation and maintenance of ambulance and rescue squads”

Peg Quann
Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown, Pa.

Bensalem taxpayers voted down a proposal to increase taxes by 1 mill to support the Bensalem Emergency Medical Services, the township’s highly regarded private, nonprofit rescue squad.

As of Thursday afternoon while the mail-in ballots were still being counted, the vote recorded by the Bucks County Board of Elections was 16,274 “no” votes and 13,127 “yes” votes to the referendum question.

The voters had been asked if they supported the tax hike for “the operation and maintenance of ambulance and rescue squads.”

Thomas Topley, executive director of the Bensalem EMS, said the vote didn’t surprise him since many voters who took part in this presidential election were not familiar with the funding needs of the squad.

“I thought it would be tough to get it passed. Nobody likes a tax increase,” he said. “We’re OK but the longer it takes to get funding, the more desperate we’ll be.”

Ironically, he said, the referendum got twice as many “yes” votes as a similar one in 2010 that the voters supported, but that wasn’t a presidential election year and there weren’t as many voters participating. The township was the only municipality in Bucks with a referendum question on its ballot.

The referendum question might have perplexed people who may have come to vote just for president and they may have thought the rescue squad was asking for a million dollars, not a mill, Topley said. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The mill would have provided the squad with $650,000 and would have raised the average Bensalem property owner’s tax bill by $21 a year. Residents currently pay 207.78 mills on their assessed property values annually to support all township, county, school district and fire and rescue services, according to the township budget.

He said the EMS has about 20 full-time and 20 part-time employees as well as about 12 volunteers that it supports through its $4 million budget. Squad members haven’t received a pay increase since 2010, other than for cost of living increases, and the squad recently lost three members to better paying rescue organizations, Topley said in August when the township Council voted unanimously to add the referendum question to this election ballot.

The squad handles about 8,000 rescue calls a year, about 15 percent of those made in the entire county, Topley reported to council.

Council member Joseph Knowles also thought having to put the referendum on the ballot this year affected the vote. “I think it was difficult during a heated presidential race,” he said.

Council may try again in an off-year election. He said that residents approved a 1-mill tax increase for the volunteer fire companies a few years ago.

Since the referendum was voted down, Topley said the squad will put off buying new heart monitors until they must be replaced and will keep trying to keep its current vehicles running. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said, adding that the township Council will help the squad with grant applications for extra funding.


(c)2020 Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown, Pa.