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CRS fund request endorsed

January 18, 2002

CRS fund request endorsed



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

and MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

The vote wasn't unanimous, but the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association late Thursday voted to endorse Community Rescue Service's request for $50,000 from the Washington County Board of Commissioners to patch up an ailing budget.

The organization added its own requirement that CRS submit a business plan to the Fire and Rescue Association within 45 days so the financial woes won't continue unabated.

Fifteen members voted for the endorsement, seven voted against and three abstained, said C. Kingsley Poole, vice president of the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co. and member of the association.

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The commissioners said they wanted the Fire and Rescue Association's endorsement before making a contribution.

"My only question is, if the $50,000 is given, is this just a band-aid or will CRS be back in eight months for more?" asked Deputy Halfway Fire Chief Jeff Ringer before the association voted. "Will this get CRS over the hump?"

CRS Chief of Operations Chris Amos said he didn't expect to be back. "We've made enough cuts to make a rebound," Amos said Thursday night.

Earlier Thursday, Commissioners Bert L. Iseminger and Paul L. Swartz said they probably would go along with the association's decision.

With the ambulance company that serves most of Hagerstown planning to lay off five ambulance staffers within the next two weeks, Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council members said earlier Thursday that the move was unfortunate but not surprising.

Some elected officials said the city will have to continue giving money to Community Rescue Service. CRS Board of Directors President Ron Horn said that without continued city funding, there could be additional cuts at CRS.

"This is the reality of what we've been told. ... Nobody should be surprised but it's distressing," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

Metzner said the city, which gave CRS $50,000 over the summer, should give CRS $50,000 again during the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"The next issue is, can we or do we give more?" Metzner said.

Mayor William M. Breichner, who serves on the CRS board of directors, said CRS will need a city contribution again.

"When we gave the $50,000, we said we were not guaranteeing it in future years. But considering the situation, it is probably what the council will be asked for," Breichner said.

CRS serves about 30,000 homes in most of Hagerstown and parts of the surrounding area. On Wednesday, the CRS board voted to cut $211,000 to balance its budget, which will result in layoffs of five ambulance staff and one administrative person, Amos said. CRS has about 25 full-time ambulance staffers.

Breichner defended the cuts.

"You either reduce staff and cut costs or you go bankrupt," he said.

The mayor said the cuts hopefully will not hurt CRS responses to emergencies, but some CRS officials have said the layoffs could mean longer waits for some who call 911.

Horn has said the layoffs will mean that CRS will have at least two ambulances ready to go out the door. Now, at least three ambulances usually are staffed. With fewer ambulances available, the chances that all CRS ambulance crews will be busy at the same time increases. When that happens, ambulances from farther away, such as Halfway, Smithsburg or Clear Spring, will be called to respond to emergencies within CRS' service area.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh, who is on the CRS board, said she was "not happy" about the cutbacks, but said the city may not be able to give CRS additional money.

Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said she would be in favor of giving CRS more money, if the city could afford such a donation.

The city faces a projected $1.5 million deficit for the next fiscal year.

Nigh said the County Commissioners should give more money to CRS.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said the CRS board apparently had no other choice but to cut staff.

To find more money for CRS, Hendershot said the Washington County government's method of distributing money to fire and rescue companies needs to be changed. As it is now, each company gets the same amount.

Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer concurred Thursday night, but he said there is a catch in giving one company more money than another.

"Ambulances cost the same, whether you run 100 calls or 1,000 calls," Baer said.

But he acknowledged that busier companies must get more money because operating expenses are more.

Hendershot said distribution of county money should be based on the number of emergencies to which each company responds. That would bring more money to CRS because CRS is the busiest company in the county, he said.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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