City fire volunteers seek county fire funding

City of Salisbury volunteer firefighters will lobby Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver, as well as candidates for that seat and for County Council, in an effort to get county funding restored for Stations 2 and 16.

But Culver – who budgeted about $820,000 for FY19 for Salisbury’s fire and ambulance — this week insisted the agreement between the city and county stipulates county funding would eventually stop.

“What I find interesting is, look at what Jake said. I got a letter from (President of Station 16 volunteers) Tri Townsend. I wrote back a very nice letter to Jake that he needs to talk to the volunteers and he wrote to me and said, ‘Good luck negotiating with them.’ That’s a nice way to talk to a county executive,” Culver said.

Reviewing the history of the fire service agreement, Culver said at one time, former Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton wanted the county to pay an additional $2 million to the city, for a total of $3 million.

A consultant company was commissioned and it was determined the county owed an extra $1 million. County officials felt the number was wrong, so a committee was formed and it was determined the best way for the county to pay was on a per-call basis, Culver said.

The city would recover 60 percent from insurance collection and the county would “make up the difference, at 40 percent of total calls,” he said.

The fee was based on what Medicare would allow per call, Culver said.

The agreement was that, after 2017 ended and all numbers were in, the county would owe the city $775,668 for calls and agreed to help with Advanced Operation Service stipends. The cost was set at $71,500 for the first year, $45,000 for the second year and $25,000 for the third year, then nothing for the fourth and fifth years, Culver said.

“That was because the city no longer gets payments to each of the volunteer companies with this new agreement,” Culver said.

He added Shandra Perry, president of the Wicomico Firemen’s Association, stated at a recent public hearing the volunteers are no longer recognized by that association because they don’t meet qualifications.

But Day told the Salisbury Independent the fire service agreement “doesn’t include volunteer funding.”

“Those companies are not party to any agreement with the county. The city and the county have an agreement. That has nothing to do with those two private entities and their relationship with the county.

“Bob can’t punt on his decision (not to fund) them. That’s his call alone, and the County Council’s to support or fight,” Day said.

Disagreeing, Culver said Day, Council President Jack Heath and Fire Chief Rick Hoppes “need to man up and say, ‘We made that agreement with the county. Good or bad we made it. Now we have to live with it.’”

“They’ve got to own it,” Culver said.

Day said the county informed him that when the agreement was signed, Stations 2 and 16 would no longer receive county money, but Day said it “changes nothing.”

“I said the county had informed us of that.  Bob defunded them last year. This is not new. This is just a new budget and he has continued to defund them,” the mayor said.

Culver said Townsend “feels like we should pay more money to them when in fact we don’t owe them any more money.”

“That’s the business part of running a government,” he said.

Townsend said Culver “keeps deferring to Jake” about funding.

“He said the county doesn’t have anything to do with it. Bob says Jake says all funding goes through the city. He says he no longer has to fund us, but funding should never be part of that agreement because we cover the city as well as the county,” Townsend said.

“It’s an election year. We will lobby Bob, but Bob doesn’t want to do it. We’re going to make sure we talk to everybody running for County Council, for County Executive. We’ll be asking at the forums, ‘Do you think this is fair? Why would you cut this out?’” he said.

“Forty-five 45 percent of our minority population lives in our fire district, so are you discriminating? Are you neglecting them?” Townsend said.

Until volunteers receive funding, they won’t be able to replace equipment or vehicles or buy self-contained breathing apparatus, Townsend said.

“We can’t buy a new rescue truck, which provides help to citizens. That rescue equipment needs to be replaced. If we wait one more year to purchase rescue equipment it will cost more,” he said.

“It’s going to reduce our ability to purchase new equipment. The breathing apparatus, we have to replace in 2020. That cost of $550,000 has to be done in FY20 and now there is no funding from the county, so the city has to come up with money. That will strain the city and county taxpayers. It costs $6,750 for each breathing apparatus set that includes bottles, a harness and face mask. If it isn’t replaced, it could fail on somebody’s face or blow up on somebody’s face,” Townsend said.

Volunteers don’t try to raise money with fundraisers such as bingo or barbecues because the agreement with the city doesn’t allow them to and they don’t have time, he said.

“We spent 16,000 hours last year riding and that doesn’t include training or firefighting. We work full-time jobs and we spend a lot of time in training,” Townsend said.

“Other regional fire departments, everyone, receives funding from the county — Somerset, Ocean City, Berlin, Worcester County, all get funding from the county. They all get something, and we get nothing. Caroline County, Easton, Queen Anne’s, Talbot. Everybody is getting it,” Townsend said.

Volunteers receive $25,000 annually from the state.

Townsend said he’s been a volunteer for 23 years and never experienced funding being withdrawn.

“This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this. It’s very important to me. I’m a second-generation firefighter. I’ve been around it since I was 4 and it’s in my blood.

“We are very disappointed that we aren’t getting funding, but it’s political so you have to play the political games. We’ve got to get that funding back. We are reviewing everything and seeing where we can go,” he said.

“Budgets can be changed after they are approved. It’s been done before.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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