By Blair Ames, email@example.com
7:35 PM EDT, March 12, 2013
Lisbon volunteer firefighters and their supporters made their case to Howard County Executive Ken Ulman earlier this week, saying that the contingent firefighter program needs to stay.
"I'm not begging you for my job," Albert Snelson, a retired Prince George's County firefighter who has served as a contingent firefighter in Lisbon since 1972, told Ulman on Monday, March 11. "What I'm begging you to do is to take a look at what you have before you throw it away."
Howard County Fire Chief Bill Goddard has proposed to eliminate funding for the department's contingent employee program beginning July 1, but members of the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Company believe the move is aimed solely at them. Lisbon has 80 volunteer firefighters and paramedics in addition to its contingents. It is the only station in the county not assigned career personnel.
Goddard has said his decision to end the program is not directed at Lisbon, but rather running the department more efficiently with career and volunteer personnel working together.
Contingent employees are part-time firefighters and paramedics without benefits. They are required to hold the same certifications as career personnel and are paid between $14 and $18 hourly.
Of the 36 contingent employees currently working for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, 18 operate out of the Lisbon station, 17 are employed with the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department and one works with the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department.
More than 35 Howard County residents testified March 11 at Ulman's second public hearing on the fiscal 2014 budget, most in favor of keeping the contingent firefighter program.
Ulman is scheduled to release his fiscal 2014 budget in late April.
He said Monday evening that the Lisbon proposal is not a budgetary move, but rather a discussion on how to best provide services to residents of western Howard County.
"I don't want anyone to think that our goal is to somehow lessen the investment in western Howard," he said.
During the three hour hearing, residents spoke on topics such as the need for a noise barrier for the Lawyer's Hill community in Elkridge, improved stormwater management in historic Ellicott City, an equestrian venue in the county and an extension of the Patuxent Branch Trail.
Patrick Larkin, a resident of Lawyer's Hill for five years, said the noise from traffic along I-95 is "deafening" and "relentless."
"We're not here to argue against progress. Tonight we ask only for fairness," Larkin said. "Our neighbors to the south on I-95 have barrier walls and our neighbors to the north on I-95 have barrier walls."
Ulman said the county has set aside its 20 percent share of funding for the $12.5 million sound barrier, but that the State Highway Administration has not allocated its share.
"It's one of those things that the state transportation trust fund has no money for new projects, so it is all maintenance," Ulman said.
He said after the hearing he would contact SHA to ensure they are "crystal clear" that the county is prepared to move forward on a project to build a sound barrier.
A handful of residents urged the county to allocate additional funding for stormwater management in historic Ellicott City after the flooding in September 2011.
Ellicott City resident Gayle Killen said in her testimony that "our gem of a town is slowly eroding."
Ulman said Ellicott City residents are "likely to see a significant investment in this upcoming budget" regarding stormwater management in the historic area.
Highland resident Karen Groner was involved in the Howard County Pony Club as a child, but today her daughter must travel to Montgomery County for Pony Club events because Howard does not have a suitable venue for lessons and events.
"We need a specific venue in Howard County to keep the sport alive and growing," Groner said. "Horse sports are too much a part of our economy and history to let them slip away as a result of poor planning and prioritizing."
But Ulman said it is "unlikely" that there will be a newly constructed facility. He added that he and his staff will take another look at existing facilities and look for opportunities to improve how the county serves the equestrian community.
Testimony was mixed on a proposed nearly three-mile extension to the Patuxent Branch Trail connecting downtown Columbia to Savage Park through Allview Estates.
Allview resident Ted Markle said the new paved path will be dangerous during heavy rains because the area is subject to flash floods.
"This path is unnecessary. Columbia already has 93 miles of paths," Markle said. "Proposed paths near Blandair Park are better suited because they are not in a flood plain and are more centrally located."
But Paul Pellegrino, also an Allview resident, said that a path along the sewer line would provide a scenic pathway throughout the watershed.
"The fact of the matter is it is a watershed," he said. "It is a flood plain. It will flood, I have no doubt, but most of the Patuxent Branch trail is actually in a flood plain."