The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
It looks like it’s too late for Larksville to place a referendum regarding funding for the borough fire department on the Nov. 3 election ballot.
“Every deadline I could find in the election code has expired,” Luzerne County board of elections solicitor Michael Butera said Wednesday.
The subject of Butera’s research was a ballot question that Larksville borough council approved Tuesday.
It asks Larksville voters to vote yes or no on a property tax increase to maintain the borough fire department in its current form, with three full-time paid firefighters and 11 paid part-timers providing around-the-clock coverage.
The move followed a public outcry after the borough notified the union that represents Larksville firefighters that it will consider disbanding the full-time department and transitioning to a mix of part-timers, volunteers and cooperative agreements with nearby towns. Contract negotiations between the borough and the union reached an impasse recently.
On Tuesday, borough solicitor Lawrence Moran said borough council would set the amount of the proposed tax increase later this month and submit the referendum in time for the Sept. 30 meeting of the county election board, which certifies the ballot for all county voting districts.
It is too late for that, according to Butera, who said state election law stipulates the deadline for a municipality to submit a ballot question to a county election board is 10 weeks prior to an election.
However, there are gray areas in the state election code, he said.
A section of the code specifically addresses ballot questions related to municipal fire departments and “fire tax,” Butera said.
That section does not specify a deadline for ballot questions that pertain to borough fire departments, though it does specify a deadline of 60 days prior to an election for ballot questions pertaining to some townships, he said.
The Nov. 3 election is 49 days after Tuesday’s meeting of Larksville council.
Since the only deadlines specified in the state election code are 60 and 70 days, and there is no deadline that applies specifically to borough fire departments, Larksville’s proposed referendum missed the deadline, Butera said.
However, he said he is willing to consider arguments to the contrary, since state election law is highly convoluted.
“If someone can find a relevant regulation we would certainly be open to listening to them,” Butera said.
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