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County's stinginess may cost some lives

June 28, 2002

In the latest clash between Community Rescue Service and the Washington County Commissioners, there are no good guys, just officials who seem to have forgotten that this is not about who prevails, but protecting the lives and health of local residents.

Joe Kroboth, the county's director of emergency services, on Wednesday said that the county never agreed to renew the $50,000 subsidy it gave CRS in the current year and instructed CRS to remove the amount from its budget.

Kroboth also defend the commissioners' Tuesday decision to split a $227,748 state grant equally among the county's 27 fire and rescue companies.

Kroboth said the commissioners didn't divide it on some other basis, like for example, the number of calls handled, because it would have "created more controversy and disappointment amongst the other fire companies if the commissioners changed the funding procedure."

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What matters more, the disappointment of some companies that didn't get an equal share - regardless of need - or whether the county's busiest ambulance company is adequately funded?

CRS has already laid off five employees, cutting its response time in some cases. How many more should go, and at what risk to local citizens?

The commissioners made a big deal of the fact that CRS purchased a vehicle from the Smithsburg rescue company. But the CRS board, which includes Hagerstown Mayor Bill Breichner, okayed the purchase because it was available at a bargain price to replace an aging vehicle that broke down repeatedly.

CRS Executive Director J. Michael Nye sometimes sounds like he went to the Jesse Ventura school of diplomacy, but he tried the quiet, reasonable approach for two years and got nowhere. He may be too blunt for some, but his message is an urgent one.

If the commissioners force CRS to lay off additional employees, someone may die as a result. And the lawsuit that person's family files will produce an award that will make $50,000 seem like pocket change. Is the county board ready for that?

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