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Baltimore County jail, fire department need more cash

Baltimore County’s jail and fire department need a combined $6.42 million to pay the bills for the rest of the budget year.

The Baltimore County Council is expected to approve the transfer of extra money Monday to the agencies involved.

The Department of Corrections needs $600,000 to cover overtime pay for correctional officers at the county jail in Towson and $2.9 million to pay for a new, more expensive contract for health care services that was approved last fall.

Between 22 vacancies and the need to pull correctional officers out of the jail for training, overtime costs have been greater than expected, county corrections director Gail Watts told council members last week.

Watts said she was “working aggressively” to fill the open positions to cut down on overtime. She’s hiring correctional officers from other jails, who are already certified and don’t have to go through the county’s full training academy. And she said she’s increased recruitment efforts targeting military members who are returning to the civilian workforce.

But the largest chunk of the cash is needed for an inmate health care contract with PrimeCare Medical.

PrimeCare provides medical, dental and behavioral health treatment for the approximately 1,200 inmates at the jail. The PrimeCare contract, approved in September, costs the county $10.5 million annually. The contract with the last company cost $6.8 million.

Officials blame the increase on more detainees needing treatment for heroin and opioid addiction, coronary artery disease, diabetes and HIV.

The jail needed $675,000 in extra funding last year to cover unanticipated overtime in the final months of the budget year.

The fire department is asking for $2.92 million to cover overtime and salary adjustments for emergency medical service workers following an arbitration proceeding.

Fire Chief Kyrle Preis said he’s working to fill 90 vacancies.

The fire department has two training classes in progress: a class of 40 EMS workers and a class of 12 firefighters.

A training class of 34 firefighters is scheduled to start in April, followed by more training classes scheduled to start in September and next March.

The fire department also needed extra money at the end of last year. Officials transferred $2.7 million to the department to cover salaries, overtime and assistance earned by volunteer fire companies.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat who is running for county executive, said at a hearing last week that she was concerned about the vacancies at the jail and the fire department.

But Fred Homan, the county administrative officer, said the vacancies were “not a large number.”

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