100 firefighters protest proposed spending cuts 5.6% reduction planned in fiscal 1997 budget

March 15, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Nearly 100 volunteers from 14 county fire companies turned out last night to protest proposed cuts in spending for fire and emergency services, arriving in a parade of fire engines, ladder trucks and emergency service vehicles at a county budget hearing in Westminster.

Michael Stewart, president of the Carroll County Firemen's Association, told the County Commissioners that the proposed cuts for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1, would halt plans for adding part-time paid emergency personnel in the northeastern part of the county. The part-timers would provide service during the daytime, when most of the 1,200 volunteers are working at other jobs.

"The county funds only 75 percent of our operating budgets, and once everything that's mandated by law insurance and workmen's compensation costs is paid for, there's very little left for operating and nothing for capital expenses," Mr. Stewart said.

He said the proposed 5.6 percent cut in the $3 million the county provides would force volunteers to work even harder to raise money to meet operating expenses.

"There's only so many dollars volunteers can raise in donations and only so many ways to raise them," Mr. Stewart said, referring to the dances, bull roasts, raffles, golf tournaments and carnivals the fire companies sponsor each year to raise about $1 million in operating money.

"And that $1 million doesn't provide for the capital improvements," he said.

Mr. Stewart said at least 10 of the current fire and medical units were built in the 1960s or 1970s.

Mr. Stewart used charts and graphs to show the commissioners how annual calls for service have risen to more than 12,000, increasing by more than 1,000 a year during the 1990s.

And he contrasted the cost of paying 675 full-time annual salaries of more than $36,000 the average pay in other counties to Carroll's average cost for each of its 1,200 volunteers of $2,588.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said the county must operate next year with $5 million less than this year. "We've opened up this process to let the public know what it costs to operate," he said. "It's not fair to assume the three [commissioners] do not support you."

In other early budget meetings last night:

Howard S. "Buddy" Redman Jr., administrator of the county's Office of Public Safety, said a proposed increase of $81,185 for operations and no increase for emergency management or 911 operations probably would lead to delays in the department's review of development plans for commercial, industrial and residential properties, which assures adequate fire and emergency service.

Scott Campbell, a fire protection engineer, told the commissioners that if he could not review development plans because of other duties, the state fire marshal would have to take over that task at a cost to the county.

Lt. Steve Lane, squadron commander for the Carroll County Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, asked that the commissioners not eliminate the $7,335 CAP budget.

"That money is used to fund our cadet program and pay rent and utilities for the hangar to house our airplane and four-wheel drive vehicle, he said. "We're all volunteers, and we'll still provide the // same [air search and rescue] services, but we'll have to give up most of our equipment," he said.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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