PITTSBURGH (AP) - One of the nation's wealthiest communities has
fallen behind on paying its volunteer fire company and claims it
can't afford to pay higher fire service rates.
Sewickley Heights - the tony Pittsburgh suburb home to
Pittsburgh Steelers greats Jack Ham and Lynn Swann and H.J. Heinz
Co. Chairman Bill Johnson - has underpaid its fire dues by nearly
$6,000 and hasn't made good on a 12-year-old promise to buy a new
tank truck, according to angry neighbors.
Sewickley Heights Manager William Rohe says the borough doesn't
have more money in its $1.5 million budget for volunteer
firefighters. Because of property assessments, the value of half of
the community's home are being disputed, Rohe said.
"Money is tight here like it is everywhere," he said.
The clash has gotten so bad that the neighboring community of
Sewickley plans to bring in arbitrators next month if a $69,000
annual fire-service contract isn't reached. The annual rate for
Sewickley Heights was increased this year by more than $20,000.
The Cochran Hose Volunteer Fire Company's 35 firefighters serve
5,500 residents in Sewickley Heights, Sewickley, Osborne and
Haysville. Sewickley Heights is by far the most affluent with a
median home price of $950,250.
The community of 981 residents had an average median household
income last year of $115,672 and ranked 57th last year in Worth
magazine's annual ranking of the 250 richest towns in America.
Residents value their privacy so much that there are no street
numbers - often a problem for firefighters trying to respond to
emergency calls.
Sewickley officials are unsympathetic to their wealthy
neighbors. They say service rates have remained level for 13 years
and the new rate remains conservative. It was based on a total
property value of $220 million, nearly $20 million less than the
actual value.
Still, Sewickley Heights paid just $11,450 in the year's first
quarter, well behind the $17,187 under the new rate, said Sewickley
council President Robert Glenn.
"It's unrealistic for someone to pay the same price for fire
service for 13 years," Glenn said.
Rohe said not only has the rate gone up, but Sewickley Heights
was never informed of the rate increase. He also disputed whether
the borough's contract with the volunteer fire company was about to
Sewickley officials say their neighbor has failed to come
through on a promise to buy a tank truck, estimated to cost
$140,000 in 1995.
Sewickley Heights recently hinted to another volunteer fire
company about striking a fire service deal but the company declined
to get involved.
"Several members of the Sewickley Heights council flat-out told
us that they wanted to use us as a bargaining chip, and we have no
interest in getting in the middle of their problem," said Tom
Larkin, fire chief of the Ohio Township Volunteer Fire Company.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)