Budget for fire companies supported; Emergency drivers' issue unresolved

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Unlike in the past when volunteers from 14 Carroll County fire companies arrived at a budget hearing in flashing fire engines and ambulances to enlist public support for additional money, last night's meeting for fiscal 2000 with the county commissioners was subdued.

The Carroll County Firemen's Association and county budget planners had agreed on a 3 percent increase, raising the county's cost to $4.7 million.

The county routinely pays 90 percent of each company's approved operating budget.

The recommended increase of $138,170 includes $50,000 for Emergency Medical Service costs at 12 stations and $517,260 for round-the-clock coverage at stations in Taneytown, Manchester, Westminster and Sykesville.

Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge, Donald I. Dell Jr. and Robin Bartlett Frazier learned, however, that one issue -- paying emergency vehicle drivers -- remains unresolved.

Leon Fleming, the fire association's liaison to the county, told the commissioners that the association's budget committee has agreed to meet with Steven D. Powell, director of the county's Management and Budget Department, to work out an acceptable solution.

Fleming said about six of the 14 volunteer companies have requested county money to pay certified drivers to cover portions of the day when their personnel are working and cannot respond. He said one company was seeking paid help for 24 hours a week. Others were asking for less help and about half didn't ask for assistance.

Powell said a solution lies in establishing criteria for paying drivers, finding out how much money is needed and identifying potential future needs and costs.

With that information, Powell said his office could determine what can be done to address the request for paid drivers.

After the fire association's presentation, the commissioners drew praise from Carroll County public library leaders for the recommended 3 percent increase in funding for its $4.7 million budget.

In a five-year funding plan, the library has received no budget increases for the past three years. A bulk of the $137,000 increase will be used to improve salaries and benefits for employees, said director Linda Mielke.

The library, which has branches in Westminster, North Carroll, Taneytown, Mount Airy and Eldersburg, also provides outreach services, such as a bookmobile.

The commissioners also welcomed a proposal presented by Laura O'Callaghan, spokeswoman for Finksburg Planning Area Council. She asked the commissioners to consider funding operational costs for a new library branch in Finksburg, if her group could find a suitable location and have the land donated.

They also weighed a recommended 3.9 percent budget increase for the Cooperative Extension program, an off-campus branch of the University of Maryland that provides information on agriculture and home economics to county residents.

The Cooperative Extension is recommended to receive more than $316,510, an increase of nearly $12,000.

Earlier yesterday, the commissioners heard budget requests from the zoning administration, which has struggled in recent years with a backlog of violations.

George Beisser, zoning administrator, said an additional employee -- perhaps part time -- could help with enforcement. The commissioners agreed to discuss the matter further.

The county attorney's office asked for a 3.66 percent increase, some of which would cover $7,000 in legal bills in the battle to increase the amount of effluent released by Hampstead wastewater treatment plant into Piney Run.

A group of Baltimore County preservationists is seeking a Circuit Court injunction to halt the increase of about 400,000 gallons in the effluent discharged.

Other county departments -- including human resources, management and budget, and comptroller -- asked for minimal increases to maintain current programs, but few new requests were sought.

Both human resources and management and budget departments need money to solve Y2K problems.

Pub Date: 3/19/99

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