Aberdeen's fire department wants to replace one of its fire stations and get new equipment, while the city's police department wants a "multijurisdictional SWAT team" that pools resources with Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
Chuck Glassman, vice president of the fire department, told the city council during a work session Monday afternoon that the department is a year behind on replacing an ambulance, for a cost of $165,000, needs a new roof on the station in Perryman and also hopes to replace the station near the Boys & Girls Club.
Glassman said that station is "probably the oldest."
"That station needs to be updated and replaced to meet current needs," he said.
The station does not meet federal handicap-accessibility requirements and does not have sleeping quarters, he said.
The replacement is a "long-range" project and Glassman said an architect is set to do a feasibility study.
"We are way behind," he said about the standards of the station. "We have older people in the fire department who can't get to the second floor."
"It's something that has to be done down the road," he said.
At least two new ambulances, two engines and a rescue truck are also needed for the department as a whole, he said.
But tough economic times mean the department will have a deficit, he said.
"We're struggling to meet our needs," he said, noting the department has started a program to educate business people and residents about what the fire department does and what it costs volunteers to run it.
Glassman said the department only gets about $62,000 in donations, which is "way, way below what we should be getting."
"Hopefully our donations will rise," he said.
The department also wants to start a recruitment program to get cadets, possibly from the Boys & Girls Club, he said.
To bring in more young people, however, the stations need more amenities, he said.
Glassman asked the council for guidance and suggestions, and Mayor Mike Bennett said he would be in touch about what the city can do to help.
"I think as a team, we can put our heads together and see what we can do to help get these projects off the ground," Glassman said.
Bennett asked City Manager Doug Miller to point out that if the city had a paid fire department instead of a volunteer one, residents would pay about 25 or 30 cents more in taxes.
Bennett said he finds it "very unsettling" that the city has a "premier" fire department but only gets $62,000 each year from its residents.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said she wonders if newcomers to Aberdeen even know the firefighters were unpaid.
"We've had such an influx of people in the last 10 years," Landbeck said.
Bennett replied he thinks most people on the street would think it is a paid fire department.
Glassman said that is why education is so important.
He also said the fire department's hall used to make some money but is "so antiquated" that he would prefer to use it for sleeping quarters or other operational use.
Pooling police resources
Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert told the council he wants to endorse a regional law enforcement compact with Havre de Grace and Bel Air to form a "multijurisdictional SWAT [special weapons and tactics] team" to do missions in any of the three municipalities as needed.
Trabert said he had a draft memorandum of understanding but it has not been approved by any municipal attorneys yet.
In 2006, the municipalities entered a mutual aid agreement with Harford County, he said.
Having a multijurisdictional team would allow each department to take advantage of the skills of "highly trained individuals," he said.
"Our team has been so effective in the city of Aberdeen," Trabert noted, explaining that special operations detectives immediately tackle an issue when the department hears about contraband, drugs or other concerns.
"As soon as they have probable cause, we don't like to wait around. When we see an issue, we take care of it immediately," Trabert said. "The other jurisdictions have seen us do this and they know we can take those problems out of a neighborhood in a matter of days."
"When you are pulling from two other jurisdictions, it's a lot easier, you have more manpower," he said.
Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young replied: "I think this is a good idea and I do support it."
Trabert added that it makes sense in difficult economic times for departments to pull together to reach the same goal.
"Economically it's just a sound process," he said.
Also at the work session, Miller questioned the conclusion of a recent article in The Record and The Aegis about Aberdeen having higher tax rates than Bel Air or Havre de Grace.
He mentioned it after a proposal to extend home tax benefits already provided by lifetime fire department members to their spouses.
The active value of the homes of active members of the fire department are reduced by $45,000 for tax purposes, Miller said.
New legislation would extend that to a widow or widower of the member.
Miller noted the last few budgets have kept the city's tax rate stable and below the constant yield.
"I would venture to say that even though our tax rate might be the highest of the three municipalities, it does not necessarily mean our ultimate tax bill is the highest because our properties are assessed a little bit less than Bel Air and Havre de Grace," he said, pointing out that his home, for example, produces less value than homes in the other municipalities.
He also said the city's water and sewer rates are lower than those of Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
"The cost of living here is not necessarily more than Bel Air and Havre de Grace," Miller said.