Fire Services Pact back before Salisbury City Council

 

Following months of discussion about achieving an equitable city-county fire service agreement, the matter is on the Monday night City Council agenda, gratifying Councilman Jim Ireton.

Inequity between the city and county greatly concerned Ireton when he was mayor, so much that he appointed a team to work for a solution and even proposed a nuclear option, to not allow emergency personnel to respond outside of city limits.

That option was dropped after the sides began working together. On Monday, at the Council meeting, city officials will talk about hiring a consultant to “check our books to prove to the county what we spend that they don’t pay for, $3.3 million,” Ireton said this week.

“Our taxpayers await a conclusion, and I wish Mayor Day all the luck in the world getting this done,” he  said.

County Executive Bob Culver told the Independent the county has agreed to pay $15,000 toward the cost of the consultant. He estimated it will take three to six months to receive the results. “It won’t happen this year, I can tell you,” he said.

Council President Jack Heath said he’s supports Day’s desire to “move this off square one.”

“Something has to be done with the equity tax base and the effectiveness of us serving outside the city. We have our numbers and the county has its numbers,” Heath said.

Mayor Jake Day doesn’t expect any disagreement at the Council meeting. “There is no reason that I see that anyone should be opposed,” he said.

When Ireton was mayor, he appointed Day – then council president — Fire Chief Richard Hoppes and Salisbury Assistant City Administrator Julia Glanz to work on the  problem.

“We cannot afford to give away any more money or provide more service,” Ireton said at the time, sharing statistics that showed the city responds to 63 percent of fire calls in the county and 67 percent of emergency medical calls. The city serves 57 percent of the county population, but only received 24 percent of county funding in fiscal year 2014.

Ireton suggested an assessable base model, five-year reduction plan and equitable compensation plan.

Day said the city and county needed to agree on how much the service is worth, what the county can afford and how long the agreement would last.

Culver, in the spring, said the city and county would have a third party determine the cost for a fire service call. Wicomico County currently pays $1 million a year for the service, he said.

The sides agreed to an audit that would remove the cost of the new fire department headquarters from the funding formula, because Culver said the county would not pay for the infrastructure.

Culver stressed he wanted an agreement that would work. For the past several months, positive relations have continued between the two sides. He feels confident, he said, and pleased, there was no nuclear option and both the city and county are covered, in case of emergencies.

Heath, too, is glad.

“Our goal is to protect the city of Salisbury but I can tell you as someone who has been with the fire department many years, when that whistle goes off, your first thought is to go,” he said.

Resisting that impulse, he added, “would be very hard.”

 

 

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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