Firefighters begin lobbying to win $700,000 increase in next fiscal year budget

Rising costs are noted in appeal to the county

March 27, 2002|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Carroll firefighters are lobbying the county commissioners for an additional $700,000 next fiscal year to cover the rising costs of providing fire, rescue and medical services in a fast-growing county.

However, the commissioners have indicated that no significant increases in spending should be expected for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. They have floated an increase of 3 percent, or $155,161, for firefighters.

Under the commissioners' proposal, the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which represents the county's 14 fire departments, would receive about $5.3 million in fiscal 2003. The firefighters are seeking about $6.02 million, a 16 percent increase over current spending.

"We respond to everything from cut fingers and headaches to hazardous materials calls," Malcolm Helwig, association president, told the commissioners at a budget hearing Monday night. "Daytime volunteers are in short supply, and the only way to fix that problem is to hire people. We need your financial support to do the job to the best of our ability."

Without the additional money, the association faces a $700,000 deficit. That could mean fire engines go without repairs and paid positions remain unfilled, firefighters said. The association distributes the county money among the fire companies to supplement their budgets.

To rally support for an increase, firefighters arrived at the County Office Building in Westminster by fire engine, ladder truck and ambulance. They packed the basement hearing room.

The commissioners are in the midst of a series of budget reviews to determine spending among agencies - and county nonprofit groups that receive county money - the next fiscal year.

Helwig is encouraging firefighters to write letters supporting the association's full budget request to the commissioners and to attend final budget hearings in May.

At the hearing Monday, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told fire officials: "We can try as best as we can to meet your requests."

Dave Franklin, chairman of the association's budget committee, told the commissioners his committee trimmed $372,673 from its proposed budget request, "knowing we weren't going to get what we asked for."

"Carroll County has the fifth-highest tax rate in the state," Franklin said. "My question is, where is that money going?"

About 1,400 county residents volunteer in the fire departments.

Firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics must take hundreds of hours of training to be certified for a job they do for free. Last year, volunteers responded to 19,866 calls.

To supplement its operating and capital budgets, fire companies hold fund-raisers. Operating costs include gas, maintenance and repairs for equipment; supplies; building upkeep and utilities; and salaries for paid personnel.

"Does the school board hold carnivals to build new schools?" Franklin said. "The fire department does."

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