Fire administrator's plans draw heat in budget review


The county fire administrator took his turn on the budget hot seat yesterday. County Council members questioned his choice of locations for building a new fire station and his plan to use a state grant to buy new equipment instead of giving it to volunteer fire companies.

Fire Administrator Paul Haigley defended his decision to build a new station in Severn before putting one on Forrest Drive near Annapolis.

He also said a $376,000 state grant would be better spent buying a replacement ladder truck than divided among volunteer companies.

Haigley clashed with county lawmakers during the Fire Department's annual budget review as he outlined a reorganization of the department.

Haigley's proposal represents a 2.5 percent spending increase from the current fiscal year -- from $39.5 to $40.7 million.

The department's capital budget includes plans to build three new stations costing about $3.2 million each and to spend $7 million for renovation and an addition to its headquarters building in Millersville.

County Council members questioned Haigley sharply about using the grant for a new ladder truck instead of allowing volunteer companies to match state funds for equipment purchases -- a practice volunteers have used for years to help pay for expensive trucks.

County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, asked Tom Thorpe, speaking for the volunteers, to come to the table and explain their concerns.

"We are the only county of the 23 [in Maryland] that does not allow volunteers to have an input into [how the state money is spent]," Thorpe said. "I guess we are still debating that."

Haigley said the money has not been spread evenly throughout the county, and that his way would mean that the state money could be used to benefit career and volunteer fire fighters.

"I am somewhat dismayed at this process," Haigley said. "Never in my 30 years have I been subjected to this type of budget hearing.

"There is a time and place for Mr. Thorpe to make his opinions known and that is at the public hearing. This is a departmental budget hearing. . . . I have the feeling of being set up."

Haigley also was questioned on his choice of building a new station near the Ridgeway Elementary School in Severn.

He said the new station is a high priority for the department because of population projections that show the area growing as much as 18 percent during the next decade.

County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, said residents living along Forrest Drive should be higher on the priority list. "I feel we kind of get the short shrift, and I don't like it."

But Haigley said, "It is my opinion that the Ridgeway station is more important."

He said Forrest Drive residents are well-served by a mutual aid agreement with the Annapolis Fire Department.

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