York renews fire service contract with county

YORK -- The York City Council has approved a five-year fire service contract with York County with the option to renew for another five years.

The contract was approved by the York County Council in May and will start in 2010. York will be paid $74,000 a year to provide service to areas outside the York city limits.

"I think it's an excellent agreement," Councilman John Smith said.

But Mayor Eddie Lee and Councilwoman Josephine Castle voted against the deal. Lee said he opposed the contract because of its connection to the county's plan to add substations, which could eventually end the county's need for York's fire service.

"I think it's become divisive," Lee said of the substation plan. "I think we've been treated unfairly, and I think they have portrayed us as somebody trying to extort money from taxpayers."

The previous contract, which goes from 2008-2010, became a contentious issue last year when there was debate about how much the county should pay York to respond to calls outside city limits. A consultant said the town should get $76,000, up from the $20,000 the county previously paid. Ultimately, they settled on $74,000 a year for two years.

Also, the York Fire Department houses county equipment, including a county-owned fire engine, ladder truck, tanker and grass truck.

Since last year's debate, County Councilman Joe Cox has pushed for building rural fire substations to reduce the county's dependence on York and provide closer fire protection for rural areas. In its proposed budget, the county has set aside $220,000 from rural fire taxes to help fund future substations.

Lee, however, said he opposes substations because they are costly and unnecessary. He said York has provided quality service, and there is no need to change that.

County Manager Jim Baker attended this week's City Council meeting in York to discuss the substation plan.

Seven substations have been planned to provide additional fire service for unincorporated areas of the county. Locations were chosen based on the understanding that York would continue to provide service, Baker said.

But that doesn't mean the county will always have a contract with York, Baker said.

Initially, the substations would be run by volunteers, but eventually the county wants daytime firefighters employed at the substations to provide consistent service, Baker said.

"Could that mean there might come a time we don't need that contract for that same level of service because we've already got it throughout the unincorporated part of the county?" Baker said. "Yes, it could happen, but that's a ways off."