Hearing on planned Harford public safety agency postponed to Dec. 11

Originally scheduled for Tuesday evening, a public hearing on the executive order that will most likely create a public safety department overseeing Harford County's volunteer fire companies has been postponed to next week.

The public is invited to attend the hearing on Executive Order 12-07 at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Harford County Council chambers, 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.

Council President Billy Boniface said Monday the reason for the postponement is to give Harford County Executive Craig more time to withdraw the order Craig originally submitted last month, fix certain language and then resubmit it.

"They [the county's administration] met with some representatives from the Havre de Grace fire department, [Susquehanna Hose Fire Company], and they had an issue with some of the language," Boniface said.

Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association President Bill Dousa said last week that the association didn't agree with the order as written and wanted to meet with Craig to discuss the order further. Trustees of the association, an umbrella organization representing all 12 private volunteer fire and ambulance companies in the county, voted last week not to support the executive order until the language is changed.

Language many members of the county's fire and EMS service, including several company chiefs, have issues with involves who would have control over each company and the incidents they respond to — the new director of the public safety department or the company chiefs.

The companies have made it clear they want to keep control over their services and the calls they respond to.

Craig must withdraw the order and resubmit it, Boniface said, because "executive orders can't be amended." Therefore, a brand new order has to be written and submitted. Once the council receives the order, it has 60 days to either accept it or vote it down. If it takes no action in that time, the order will automatically take effect.

Boniface believes Craig will be meeting with the association some time this week, a move he's glad the county executive is taking, and should have a new draft to look over soon.

As far as any questions the council had regarding the executive order, which Craig originally sent the council on Nov. 8, Boniface feels those are being worked out, as well.

"I had a good meeting with the county attorney and director of administration [Mary Chance] regarding issues of the council," he said. "They are very receptive to making the changes."

With this understanding, Boniface feels "all parties involved want to see a department created," and the council will most likely give a vote of confidence on the order next week.

The public hearing, however, will be a good platform for council members and the public to bring up any questions or concerns they may have because, Boniface said, "once it goes into law, we can't take any action against it."

The council president, one of three current council members who have served in the volunteer fire service, said he personally believes creating a public safety department will be beneficial for everyone. Currently, the county's relationship with the fire companies falls under the director of administration, as does the operation of the 911 Center and other emergency services run by the county.

Giving the example of the county's information and communications technology department, which was at one time a division under the director of administration, Boniface said creating that department "elevated it to a cabinet level and allowed the county executive to [put] someone in charge to serve at his will."

Another plus would be having a director who has experience and knowledge of emergency services in the county.

Boniface added that he is "supportive" of the public safety department and is "happy" Craig will come before the council next week to answer any lingering questions.

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