Training facility draws queries

2 councilmen target police-fire center for possible budget cuts

$7 million eyed for high school

Howard County

April 30, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Howard County's two Republican councilmen asked yesterday whether the long-awaited training facility for police and firefighters has to cost $17.2 million - one wondering if it could be done more cheaply on the Cooksville site and the other suggesting it be abandoned for a partnership with another county.

Councilmen Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon, both hoping to add $7 million to the capital budget so the county's 12th high school can open in 2005, zeroed in on the training center as a possible place to save money.

The council - which had a work session yesterday to discuss spending - has yet to debate the highly charged issue of school construction. A public hearing on the operating and capital budgets for the schools is scheduled at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Merdon, of Ellicott City, and Kittleman, from western Howard, said residents asked them to question the expense of building a training center. "I'm not saying I'm going to vote against it," Kittleman added. "I just have to be convinced."

Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, said his constituents had a point to make, too, and he agrees with them.

"What they said was that we don't pay our officers enough ... and now we're playing around with their training center," he said. "It's unfair to them and it's unfair to us. I think we should move to do a good job, rather than making do."

Kittleman's suggestion to the police and fire chiefs was that Howard could look into sharing Frederick County's public safety training facility.

"It's just off I-70," he said. "Has anybody thought about doing that? ... It's only 17 miles from where we want to build ours."

County Fire Chief Joseph Herr said Frederick is using its center more heavily and has less time to offer Howard. "As counties grow and departments grow, the demands for training keep going up," he said.

Kittleman noted that the two counties could form a joint venture, with Howard helping to pay for new buildings in Frederick in exchange for training time. That didn't seem efficient to Herr or Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who said a lot of employees would have to drive the extra distance.

Herr said a new partnership to train Howard high school students as firefighters and paramedics was struck with the assumption that the teens would not have far to go.

"A lot of things hinge on our ability to train in county," he said.

"Do we really want our personnel in Montgomery County or Baltimore or Frederick when they're here?" Livesay asked afterward, noting that the Howard center has been on the drawing board since 1985. "To me, it's like living out of hotels. ... We need a training facility. I'm not sure how else to say it. It's critical."

Merdon, who said he questions the scope of the center rather than the idea of having it in the county, asked if Howard could "still have a great facility for $15 million or $12 million." Of the $17.2 million proposed cost, $6.4 million is penciled in for the next fiscal year.

Merdon also asked officials to figure out how much it would cost to operate the training complex. When council members agreed to reduce class sizes in first and second grades in the 1990s, he said, they were given only "half the picture" - staff costs - but were later stuck with the expense of constructing extra classrooms.

The fire and police chiefs noted that some of the operating costs are being paid because they have trainers now.

Livesay said the facility they are asking for represents the minimum they need.

The 2004 fiscal year begins July 1. The council is expected to vote on budgets May 23.

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