Fire/EMS Foundation lost $639,000 in assets in 2011

Harford County's hybrid fire and ambulance service operation, which is asking the county to give it a "stopgap" of $400,000, has had some recent financial struggles, according to audits obtained by The Aegis.

Bill Dousa, head of the Harford County Fire & EMS Foundation, said Monday the county has known for some time the group was losing money and should have been better prepared when a bill asking for $400,000 came before the Harford County Council earlier this year.

The council held a public hearing on the bill last week but delayed a vote on it.

"[Emergency operations manager] Brian Feist knew early in the year that this was coming. We spoke with Brian several times, we spoke with the director of administration Mary Chance and I guess they decided that they needed to formally move the money," Dousa said.

"This is the first time we have asked for additional funding," he noted. "In years past, we have always operated on the positive side."

This past year, however, Dousa said, the foundation got two new drivers for the Darlington and Whiteford fire companies, and needed $120,000 for legal fees dealing with unionization issues.

The foundation had a decrease of $639,539 in its net assets for the fiscal year ending in June 2011, according to the group's audit.

Its assets went from $1.4 million in 2010 to $844,417 in 2011. Its functional expenses, meanwhile, went from $2.9 million in 2010 to $3.6 million in 2011.

"The Foundation's expected revenue does not support the expected expenses for the year ending June 30, 2012," the audit states. "These factors have created an uncertainty about the Foundation's ability to continue as a going concern."

Dousa said: "The county was well aware that we were going to run short of money... The county [treasurer Kathryn Hewitt] did a very poor job of supporting that [bill]."

"When we created the foundation [in 2006], the Harkins administration told us that they wanted us to speed up EMS responses," he explained. "The foundation is a unique organization, as far as I know, in the U.S."

He said money was initially set aside as the foundation was put on a five-year plan of growth, and for its first two years, "the county executive pretty much supported that funding growth," he said. "Then the county executive said we have to hold the line."

Dousa said the group is just trying to meet goals set for it earlier.

"We were truly trying to keep up with the spirit of the fire study [completed last year] because the fire study has increased capability," he said. At the council hearing, "there were questions there that I personally had concerns with, like the questions about our financial records, our audits, that the financial director couldn't answer," he said. "We have provided all six years' worth of audits, but she said she had one... We gave every council member with all six of those audits again."

About the group's legal fees, Dousa said the county pushed for unionization, although it would not pay for any lawyer.

"They encouraged us to fight the union but they weren't going to help us with it," he said. "The county said, 'No, you are a private corporation.'"

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