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Mayor reverses plan to close West Baltimore fire company

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reversed direction Tuesday on a plan to close a West Baltimore fire company after months of protest from community members and fire unions.

West Baltimore's Truck 10, which city officials had planned to close this month, will be kept open at least through June 30, administration officials said. They said funding would come from about $1.4 million in taxes, fees and lower-than-expected costs related to the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Two other companies — East Baltimore's Truck 15 and Southeast Baltimore's Squad 11 — closed this year and will not be spared, officials said. The administration has attributed the closures to the need to target city resources more effectively amid budget constraints.

Truck 10 is in the 1500 block of W. Lafayette Ave. in Harlem Park; Squad 11 is in the 5700 block of Eastern Ave. in the Hopkins Bayview neighborhood and Truck 15 on Broadway East.

Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters union, praised the mayor's decision to keep Truck 10 open.

"I absolutely applaud her," Hoffman said. "It's certainly a good thing. Having Truck 10 open is having another company that would have been down, and we'd have been stretched even thinner than we already are."

Truck 10 operations will be funded by a recently received payment of about $500,000 in overdue admissions and amusement taxes from the 2011 Grand Prix, about $300,000 in unbudgeted tax receipts from the 2012 race, and $300,000 in fees from the 2012 race, city officials said. The city's costs for its role in the 2012 Grand Prix are expected to be $300,000 less than budgeted.

The city's Finance Department says this $1.4 million in unanticipated funds is enough to support the company through the end of the fiscal year in June. The administration said the mayor's 2014 fiscal year budget will include "strategies for continued operation of fire companies."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was "extremely encouraged" by the news, said his spokesman, Lester Davis.

"This is a good day for Baltimore," Davis said. "Now is the best time to focus the city's attention and energy on a long-term solution that will ensure public safety by preventing future closures of fire companies."

On Oct. 10, Young will hold a hearing at City Hall to address concerns about the closing of fire companies, including whether the public was properly involved in the decision-making process through public hearings.

J.P. Grant, the local financier who put on the 2012 Grand Prix, said he's glad funds from the race are going to a good cause.

"I'm glad we could help," he said. "People don't mind paying taxes if they know their taxes are going to go to the things they should."

Last month, the city revealed it had taken in $4.2 million more than expected from speed cameras, which fire union officials said they hoped could be used to keep two companies open. The administration has said that money will be used for traffic calming programs.

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