Sandy Lake firefighters say budget issues forcing service cutbacks

Residents of Sandy Lake Borough may be facing life without the full services of their volunteer fire department.

A post on the Sandy Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page, Sandy Lake Fire & Rescue, says ongoing budget negotiations between the department and borough officials have reached a stalemate.

“It is with great sorrow that we must inform you that due to no action by the Sandy Lake Borough Council, that effective today (Nov. 2), your services have been reduced to fires and wrecks with entrapment only,” the department said.

With this announcement, the fire department will no longer respond to calls that do not involve a fire, or crashes that don’t involve entrapped individuals within Sandy Lake Borough. Fire police who direct traffic around accident scenes will also no longer respond to accidents without entrapment, according to the fire department.

The department will continue to respond if called to assist other departments.

Fire department chief Logan Downing said his department provides service for Sandy Lake Borough, Sandy Lake Township, Mill Creek Township, Lebanon Borough and half of Stoneboro Borough. An agreement reached around 2010 stipulates that each of the jurisdictions, excluding Sandy Lake Borough, share a total of $2.5 million for fire protection services, Downing said.

Sandy Lake is the only certified Quick Response Service in northeastern Mercer County, and because of this status, the department is frequently called to attend to other emergencies outside its service area.

Downing said Sandy Lake Borough still pays the department the same amount of money it did in the 1980s.

Downing, who was elected chief in January, said the department has tried to negotiate a budget with the borough over the last several months.

“They [the borough] more or less have given us various political hoops to jump through,” he said.

The department held a public forum in September, and Downing said “residents, for the most part, were very much behind us.”

Downing said a budget submitted by the department after the forum marked the third time the department has gone through the budget process with the borough.

Downing said the borough has now said it will not know if the budget will be approved until early December.

“[The borough is] continuously stonewalling us,” Downing said.

Donald Oakes, Sandy Lake’s borough council president, said he had no knowledge the department’s impending service cuts.

“We are just in the process of doing the budget and we have not received any notification from them for anything,” Oakes said.

The next borough meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the upstairs portion of the borough building. The meeting is open to the public, but public participation is limited to those who are on the agenda.

“My job as chief is to make sure that my guys have the best equipment and we’re providing the best service we can,” Downing said.

“[The department is] trying to be polite and political. We’ve tried to negotiate, and none of it was getting us anywhere,” Downing added.