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Funding sought for retirement program

February 04, 1998

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The Washington County Fire and Rescue Association asked the County Commissioners Tuesday to increase funding for fire and rescue services to pay for retirement benefits for volunteers, a new training center and utility expenses.

Association President Jay Grimes asked for a funding increase of $825,000 for the 1999 budget year, which begins July 1.

If the increase is approved, county spending for local fire and rescue companies would be $2.38 million - a 53 percent increase over the current budget of $1.55 million.

The association's five-year budget calls for $15.45 million in spending on fire and rescue between fiscal years 2000 and 2004. The budget would peak at $3.47 million in 2004.

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The retirement program, which the association has been seeking for years, would cost $275,000 next year, Grimes said. Under the program, volunteers with 25 years of service would receive $350 a month after retirement.

For volunteers who have put in a number of years, up to 20 years of service could be grandfathered in to the program.

Grimes said the program should help attract and retain volunteers, possibly limiting the number of paid firefighters that would be needed.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told Grimes he didn't think the commissioners could come up with the full $275,000 for the program and asked Grimes to look for other funding sources.

Grimes said he's confident a countywide study of fire and rescue services being conducted will show support for the retirement program and the need for more paid personnel.

Grimes said the $825,000 increase requested doesn't include a request for funding for additional paid personnel that might be made after the study is completed.

Grimes also asked for $350,000 in seed money for a new fire training center at Hagerstown Junior College. Grimes said the association hopes to get additional funding from grants.

Grimes asked for $178,000 to cover half of the utility costs of fire and rescue companies.

The budget request includes a savings of $49,000 in insurance costs compared to this year's budget. County Administrator Rodney Shoop attributed the savings to the companies' safety training programs.

Other association requests include:

* $30,000 for a new instructor at the Career Studies Center to train fire and rescue personnel.

* $20,000 for a recruitment program.

* $6,000 in expenses for the office of Administrative Planner Robert Cumberland.

* $18,700 for a new car for Cumberland.

* $3,000 for training for Cumberland.

Grimes said a typical county fire department raises about 70 percent of its budget from donations, 15 percent from tip jar proceeds, and 15 percent from state and county grants.

It is projected that fire and rescue companies will receive $860,000 from the Washington County Gaming Commission next year.

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