WELLSBORO - Good news out of Harrisburg was announced Monday for fire and ambulance companies.
Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed into law a bill that increases loan amounts available for volunteer fire and ambulance companies under the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program. The bill, known as Act 129 of 2013, was authored by state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro.
The program provides loans at a fixed, 2-percent interest rate to volunteer fire, ambulance and rescue companies for the acquisition, rehabilitation or improvement of apparatus, facilities and equipment.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Ambulance crews from DuBoistown and Old Lycoming Township respond to a crash in March 2007 in which a sport-utility vehicle overturned on Daughertys Run Road in Woodward Township. Five children and one adult were taken to a local hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
Among other things, the new law:
Increased the amount of an allowed loan to purchase apparatus from $100,000 to $200,000, or 50 percent of the total cost, whichever is less;
Increased the amount of an allowed loan to purchase aerial apparatus from up to $150,000 to up to $300,000; and
Increased the amount of an allowed loan to purchase an ambulance or light-duty rescue vehicle from up to $50,000 to up to $100,000.
The news made Wellsboro fire Chief Lonnie Campbell's day.
"Nothing has been getting cheaper. Equipment is only increasing cost wise, so this is great news," Campbell said.
Campbell said the caps on low-interest loans had been "unchanged for a number of years."
"Raising those caps to better reflect the cost of new fire-fighting equipment better enables us to make those purchases and keep using low-interest loans," he said.
Campbell said the department will "be able to get more pieces of equipment that might not otherwise be available to us."
"We were financing one piece of equipment in two loans before. With the low-interest loan being a greater money value, we can spend more at a lower rate to secure a fire engine, ladder truck or something else that may have been out of our grasp," Campbell said.
The last time Wellsboro used the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program also was the first time, about four years ago.
"We used it when we purchased our last vehicle. We applied for $100,000 and were approved, so that was available at the lower interest rate," he said.
About a third of the cost of the vehicle, a $350,000 engine, was paid for with a loan at 2-percent interest.
"If you compounded that at, say, 7 or 8 percent through another financial institution, (you can see how) it is a huge savings for us," he added.
Baker said the program allows fire and EMS companies to obtain the funding needed to purchase equipment and update their facilities in order to better serve the community.
"Unfortunately, the program's loan amounts have not been properly updated in more than 20 years, which put companies at a disadvantage when trying to use the old loan amounts to purchase equipment and vehicles at today's prices," he said.
The new law also increases loan amounts as follows:
For establishing and modernizing facilities from $200,000 to $400,000, or 50 percent of the total cost, whichever is less;
Watercraft rescue vehicle loans are increased from up to $15,000 to up to $30,000 or 50 percent of the cost of the ambulance or rescue vehicle, whichever is less;
Purchases of protective equipment are increased from up to $10,000 to up to $20,000.
Repair of apparatus equipment is increased from $1,000 to $35,000 to $2,000 and up to $70,000, or 80 percent of cost, whichever is less.
Purchases of used apparatus loans are increased from $60,000 to $120,000 or 80 percent of cost, whichever is less.
PennFirs reporting system hardware and software, allowable for one time only, is increased from up to $2,000 to up to $4,000, or 75 percent of cost, whichever is less.
The new law also allows companies that merge or consolidate to hold a combined total of up to 10 loans for a period of 10 years and loan amounts may exceed limits by $20,000, increased from $10,000, for the purchase of firefighting apparatus, ambulance or rescue vehicles manufactured or assembled in Pennsylvania.