2023 Referendum
You may have heard about the fire tax referendum that passed on November 7, 2023.

Why did this happen, and what is a referendum?
West Deer Township is a Home Rule Charter community. That means we are governed by a Charter that acts just like the United States Constitution. The Charter can only be amended through a referendum. A referendum is a process where the Board of Supervisors sends an ordinance to the Allegheny County Department of Elections having a question placed on the ballot of West Deer voters, who can only vote “yes” or “no.” If more voters vote “yes,” the ordinance passes and comes back to the Board for implementation.

What is the purpose of the Fire Tax referendum?
The Fire Tax referendum will be on the ballot to modify the language of the Charter to change the fee structure from flat rates to millage-based rates, to simplify the language, and to increase funding for the operational support of our three volunteer fire companies in the process. Section C-1197 (Tax Limitation) of the Charter currently states:     
“The taxes on real estate shall be limited to twelve mills per One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) of assessed valuation together with a fee of up to $40.00 per household and $100.00 per business for fire protection. This limitation may be modified by the Board of Supervisors by an ordinance placing the question of increasing the limit on the ballot of any election for the approval or rejection by the qualified voters of the Township.”

The bold italicized language – which is the Fire Tax itself – was resoundingly added by the voters of the Township through a referendum in 2005, when over 70% of the voters felt the Fire Tax was necessary. The voters will decide whether to change the language of Section C-1197 to read:
“The taxes on real estate shall be limited to twelve (12) mills of the Township’s assessed value, which may include a Fire Tax in an amount not to exceed one-half (0.5) mills.”

Couldn’t the Board of Supervisors simply increase the Fire Tax (or give extra funds to the VFCs)?
Contrary to what has been said on social media, the Board of Supervisors does not have the authority to increase the Fire Tax. As you can see in the current version of Section C-1197 above, the $40/$100 Fire Tax limits can only be modified by the voters, not the Board. All the Board can do is send it to the voters. Some folks in the fire service and in the community have asked why the Board does not just give the fire companies additional funding from the General Fund instead of increasing the Fire Tax. Though the Board could do that, it would be contrary to the entire purpose of having a Fire Tax.  

In 2004, the companies and the Board argued that if a Fire Tax was implemented, the fire departments would not have to rely on a fluctuating revenue source decided by “the benevolence” of different supervisors each year. As stated, the Fire Tax was therefore resoundingly adopted by the voters in 2005 as a means to ensure a stable, set, and able-to-be-budgeted source of funding for the fire companies each year. So today the General Fund is budgeted separately by the Board of Supervisors knowing that the Township’s fire service funding comes from the Fire Tax alone. In the case of an emergency, the Board could definitely offer additional -- and understandable -- financial support, but the fire companies now know what their budget is and work within it.

Why did the fire companies need an increase, and what do you mean by “operating costs?”
A Fire Study conducted by the Commonwealth recommended the VFC funding be reviewed. After studying more detailed financials given to the Township, and meeting with all three companies on June 1st to discuss finances and an appropriate funding level, the Board of Supervisors realized that the companies were able to cover operational costs – utilities, training, fuel, vehicle and building maintenance, firefighting equipment, hoses, etc. – but were not able to save enough to cover the capital costs of future vehicles. The Fire Study showed that all three fire companies follow recommended vehicle replacement schedules, and do not buy replacements until they truly need them. Costs have increased so much in the seventeen years since the Fire Tax was implemented, however, that more saving is necessary. A $400,000 truck in 2006 may cost over $1 million today. And that is why the Board unanimously voted to send this important increase to the voters.

I noticed VFC #3 bought a new building? Will the increase in Fire Tax funds go to that?
It should be made clear that the recommended increase is not for the VFC #3 building on Route 910.  Again, this Fire Tax increase – if voters pass it – would go toward operating expenses and capital vehicle purchases. When VFC #3 petitioned the Board of Supervisors on June 15, 2021, the Chief and President gave a presentation that listed six sources of revenue to pay for the new building and renovations:  1) Fifteen year Mortgage for $1.4 Million; 2) Bridge loan of $400,000; 3) $250,000 from company funds/investments; 4) Sale of existing building estimated at $700,000; 5) State VLAP loan for $450,000; and 6) GETGF grant for $500,000.  As you can see in their complete presentation, nowhere in their proposal did they state a Fire Tax increase or additional funding from the Township would fund the building and/or renovations.  

Are there other sources of revenue the fire companies have available?
All three companies receive additional funding in the form of fundraising, grants, and special programs through the state and federal governments. The Township has offered to assist in helping with applications.

Will there be accountability?
Absolutely. Another recommendation from the Fire Study was greater transparency and financial reporting from the fire companies. Though the Fire Tax is budgeted, simple reporting requirements will be placed on the funds before they are distributed. These reports include reports such as monthly profit/loss reports, year-to-date profit/loss reports, and federal 990 filings, and are necessary so the Board knows how the tax dollars are being spent (and to gauge when more administrative help is needed from the Township).

How will this impact my tax bill personally?
All residential properties are currently charged $40 a year for the Fire Tax, and all commercial properties are charged $100 for the year. With the recommendation to move from a flat fee to an assessed fee, some property owners will see a reduction of their tax, and some will see an increase. This is all determined by your assessed property value from Allegheny County (not your market value, which is much higher). The average property assessment in West Deer is currently $117,600.  At .5 mills, the Fire Tax would be $58.80 a year. 

What if I need additional information?
In addition to this webpage you can also contact the Township administrative offices at (724) 265-3680, or send an email to the Township Manager at We want the public to understand this issue, so we are here to assist! As a cautionary note: Please do not rely on social media for accurate information. You will not find it there.

West Deer Volunteer Fire Company #1

West Deer VFD #1 288

West Deer Volunteer Fire Department #1 is located in Culmerville and serves in conjunction with the other two fire departments to provide fire protection to the Township residents and businesses.  Please follow the link above for more information on this department.

West Deer Volunteer Fire Company #2

West Deer VFD #2 289

West Deer Volunteer Fire Department #2 is located centrally in the Township in the Magill Plan off of Saxonburg Boulevard.  It serves in conjunction with the other two fire departments to provide fire protection to the Township residents and businesses.  Please follow the link above for more information on this department.

West Deer Volunteer Fire Company #3

West Deer VFC #3 290

West Deer Volunteer Fire Company #3 is located off of State Route 910 near the Richland Township border and below the Fawn Haven plans. It serves in conjunction with the other two fire departments to provide fire protection to the Township residents and businesses. Please follow the link above for more information on this department.