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County volunteer firefighters are trying to hire a lawyer to represent them in a dispute with County Executive Robert R. Neall about who controls $372,200 in state money.

The 500 county volunteers hope to raise $500 from each of the county's 27 fire companies.

Although the companies have traditionally been allowed to decide how to spend state grants, Neall has decided to use this year's allotment to buy new face masks for all the companies -- a ruling that goes against the recommendations of a committee of volunteers.

"All of the companies have said they would (contribute to the lawyer fund)," said volunteer association president Louis D'Camera. "We are tryingto get some money together and unite as a whole."

D'Camera said the committee of volunteers had decided that the money this year should go to the Armiger, Avalon Shores and Arnold companies for new trucks.

Those companies would receive $100,000 each and would match themoney for new pumper trucks, he said.

"We are not against a new piece of safety equipment," D'Camera said. "It's not a bad idea. But (the safety masks) won't cost that much."

Although the final decision about how the money is spent is left up to Neall, D'Camera said the volunteers should have a say in it. He said he did not know if the issue would end up court.

"We are hoping to be able to solve our problems with the administration," he said.

Louise Hayman, Neall press secretary, said the county executive has the power to make the final decision.

"There is no requirement that they be asked for recommendations," she said. "And more to the point, there is no requirement that their recommendations be accepted."

Hayman questioned where the money for the attorney was going to come from.

"The county executive hopes that the money they are using for legal advice does not detract from fire protection in the community," she said.

Neall's decision on how state aid was spent and cuts he made in their pension plan showed Neall's favoritism toward the county's paid firefighters, volunteers say.

The county budget office recommended that $635,480 be contributed in the second year of a three-year funding plan for the volunteers pension program. Neall approved only $485,000.

The program benefits 281 retirees and 65 widows. For the fiscal year ending last June 30, former County Executive O. James Lighthizer signed a bill giving the pensioners a $25 per month increase.

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