Wicomico, Salisbury sign Fire Services Agreement

The Fire Service Agreement map shows Salisbury’s territory in the center of the county.

County Executive Bob Culver and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day signed a new five-year agreement on Friday that compensates the city for providing fire and emergency services to county residents who don’t live within the city limits.

The Fire Services Agreement is the result of two years worth of negotiations. The county will pay the city on a per-call basis anytime a city fire truck or ambulance is dispatched to an emergency or medical scene.

In addition to dictating financial commitments, the agreement has the side benefit of resolving the dispute involving the Salisbury firefighter volunteers who left city service to create their own coverage area.

Culver said he will place $950,000 in the county’s Fiscal 2018 budget to finance the agreement. What the city collects will be based on the number of calls per district, as well as specific rates per fire call, per non-transport call, per EMS call and a Special Operations stipend.

That stipend — the only stipend for the city in the agreement — helps to pay for the city’s Fire Boat and Dive Team.

In summer 2016, when Jim Ireton was serving as mayor and threatened to cease city fire service to the county, the city estimated it was owed more than $1.5 million for county service.

Though it has no bearing on the Fire Service Pact, Culver said his budget blueprint calls for adding an additional $45,000 per year to each of the county’s 11 volunteer fire companies, upping their annual stipend funding to $300,000.

In round numbers, the county’s financial commitment to fire services would be $3.3 million to volunteer companies, plus $950,000 for the city, for a total of about $4.25 million.

County Administrative Director Wayne Strausburg said the county’s fire services spending would thereby increase by about a half-million dollars.

Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ernie Colburn, who played a leadership role in keeping the parties at the table, said the first agreement since 2010 benefits the community as a whole.

“The agreement signed today is a template,” Colburn said. “It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a positive step in the right direction.”

He added: “With assistance from outlying entities, this secures the need for fire service and rescue service at the airport, as well as shoring up the needs for the city of Salisbury. All of those points are mentioned in the agreement.”

Culver on Friday seemed both relieved and happy to have the fire services disputes behind him.

“(The negotiations) have been long and arduous in many ways,” he said. “We have done some soul searching — and of course with the things that have happened recently (the Company No. 1 rebellion) — it has caused the whole thing to come to a head.”

“Our agreement is based on facts and fairness,” Culver said, “the same old formula, one that protects the public and is both fair and affordable for the city and county residents. This is a very positive move for Wicomico County.”

Day, meanwhile, stressed that the agreement is a fee-for-service arrangement, and “not a stipend, as we have done in the past.”

“This is an agreement that’s reflective of two entities, and I believe two leaders, who recognize the the best interests of the community and the safety of our citizens — inside municipal boundaries or outside — was the most important thing,” Day said.

The mayor said the city and county began the process by agreeing on an important point.

“Two words guided the negotiations, and they were words everyone agreed on: It has to be affordable and it has to be sustainable,” Day said. “This is an affordable and sustainable agreement; it can last for many years to come.”

Day also gave credit to Wicomico Emergency Services Director David Shipley and Shipley’s team for providing the statistics with which negotiators could work.

Culver said Salisbury Company No. 1 volunteers, who want their own station and territory, will likely be put into service at Salisbury-Wicomico-Ocean City Regional Airport. He said details on that are being worked out.

“They are a recognized company, through the state of Maryland and through the Fire Chiefs Association,” he said. “They will be taking care of what we hope to be the airport service.”

Day added: “The idea that there would be a fire station on Snow Hill Road near the current station — that will no longer happen.”                                                                                            

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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