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Let Sharpsburg squads join without a financial penalty

April 24, 2001

Let Sharpsburg squads join without a financial penalty



For more than a year, Sharpsburg's ambulance squad and volunteer fire company have been talking about a merger, to save money by working together. The sticking point is that if the companies merge, the new entity could lose the $40,000 that goes to every fire company in Washington County.

The commissioners should reassure Sharpsburg that won't happen, then put a moratorium on other funding changes until the Emergency Services Council recommends a new needs-based funding formula.

One fact spurring the merger is the fire company's 60- year-old hall, deteriorating due to age and the fact that today's firefighting equipment is much heavier that the engines of the past. A new hall could cost up to $900,000, a debt that would be easier to retire if both companies were under one roof.

Other things would be easier as well. In the aftermath of the last consultant report, there's been a proposal made to have firefighters cross-trained as medics, allowing members of one squad to fill in for the other when there was a heavy volume of calls.

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A single company only needs one administrator, one annual audit and a single fund drive. The stress that would save volunteers of both companies would be substantial, not to mention the potential cash savings.

That brings up a key point: If the companies' merger has the effect of saving money, should the county cut back on what it's giving the new merged company?

No, for two reasons. The first is that if every fire/rescue company that economizes is penalized, there won't be a lot of incentive to do so. The second is that the merged company will be providing the same service to the area it did prior to the merger, they'll incur costs that won't decrease just because there's an agreement work together.

The whole thing points out the need to work out a funding formula based on individual companies' costs and the amount of service they provide. Giving all the companies an equal share of the pie may be the easy thing to do, but it's not right.

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