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Emergency services threatened by lack of funding

February 13, 2001|By LAURA ERNDE

Emergency services threatened by lack of funding



ANNAPOLIS - Unless the Maryland General Assembly hikes the cost of car registrations or speeding tickets, state funding for local fire companies and emergency helicopter rescues will be cut, local lawmakers said.

"The consequences are going to be bad for the state and have serious fallout in Washington County," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington County.

Grants to local fire companies, along with money for fire and rescue training, Maryland State Police helicopters and the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, is funded by an $8 annual surcharge on vehicle registrations.

Without more money, state budget analysts estimate the legislature will have to cut $7.2 from the programs.

One idea is to increase the surcharge to $11, which means a two-year car registration would cost $76 instead of $70. A hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. today before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

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But local lawmakers favor an alternative - adding a $20 surcharge to the cost of a speeding ticket - because it places the burden on those with an increased risk of needing emergency services.

All six delegates who represent Washington County have signed on as co-sponsors of the speeding ticket surcharge.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he'd rather put the burden on drivers who speed because they have more accidents.

"There's a relationship between people who speed and deaths on the highway," Munson agreed.

Although it's not clear exactly where cuts would be made, local lawmakers are concerned that Washington County could lose its emergency helicopter service.

"The possibility that could happen is very real," McKee said.

Maryland State Police's medevac helicopter airlifted 215 people from accidents in Washington County compared to 8,957 statewide in 1998 and 1999, according to figures the legislature provided to Munson.

The speeding ticket surcharge at least would target out-of-state drivers, McKee said. A hearing has not been scheduled on that proposal, sponsored by Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Eastern Shore.

Increasing car registration fees would raise about $13 million, enough to keep the programs in the Emergency Medical System Operations Fund going through 2008, according to state budget analysts.

Local fire and rescue departments depend on the fund for training and operations. Each department gets about $40,000 a year from the fund.

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