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CRS seeks county funding help

July 10, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last Sunday I wrote about the "partners" who are planning changes for Washington County's fire/rescue system.

Washington County Commissioner Bert Iseminger, Joe Kroboth, head of the county's Emergency Services Department and Jason Baer, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire Association told me that their aim is to get the county's 27 independent companies working together as one department.

It may take a while, they said, but good things are going to happen. J. Michael Nye, executive director of Community Rescue Service, wants action now. Nye has irritated many of the players by refusing to keep quiet when he feels his agency is getting the short end of the stick.

His latest objection came when the county commissioners distributed the Section 508 fire and rescue funds, a state grant earmarked for aid to local fire/rescue companies.

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The commissioners voted to split the quarter-million-dollar grant 27 ways, so that each company got $8,324. Kroboth said that a last-minute cut in the cash some companies depend on for their budgets would have put them in a tough spot.

Nye said that what was so irritating was that the commissioners made the decision without even discussing material they had in hand which showed what would happen if cash were distributed based on the number of calls run.

Iseminger told me the issue will top the agenda at the next Emergency Services Council meeting, set for Monday July 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the commissioners' offices. CRS will be invited to attend and provide input, Iseminger said.

Nye also objected recently when Kroboth told CRS not to place a $50,000 county grant in their budget because there was no guarantee the agency would get it this year. Kroboth said he did that because CRS hasn't yet provided all the information the county sought, though they've given a lot.

"We had several meetings of five or six hours each. We asked for information on 17 to 18 items. For the most part they've complied," he said.

Iseminger said he was surprised by the June 27 story in which Nye said there might be more layoffs at CRS, because the organization is projecting a $200,000 surplus this year.

Nye said that just because the organization is projecting a surplus doesn't mean it no longer needs government funding. As for the information requested by the county, Nye said CRS hasn't delivered the final bit of it because the meeting the county set for that purpose isn't until July 25.

In talking about the limitations the county faces in working with independent companies, Kroboth said that the county cannot stop one company from buying an $800,000 farm or another from buying a $200,000 rescue squad vehicle.

Why didn't CRS consult with the county before it purchased the vehicle?

It was discussed, Nye said, adding that Kroboth encouraged CRS' interest in the vehicle, a heavy-duty truck used for vehicle entrapments known as a "squad," because the Funkstown department's squad was about to go into the shop for service for more than a month.

"Kroboth encouraged us to make the squad fit our specs and get serious about having reliable equipment," Nye said.

The $300,000 vehicle was available at a bargain price, Nye said, because the county commissioners had ordered the Smithsburg ambulance company to stop using it because the town's fire department also had one. It replaced an older CRS vehicle that was mechanically unreliable. Nye said

Something's got to give on funding, Nigh said, because Kroboth's report to the commissioners said CRS is short by 10 people. And Nye said it's almost impossible to get volunteers to fill the advanced life support positions where the company is lacking.

The claims of financial irregularities are nonsense, Nye said.

"We've been audited by the city, the county and the state, We've been audited to death," he said.

Has this issue become Mike Nye instead of the needs of CRS?

"Unfortunately, there's a focus on the messenger who tends to be argumentative when the facts are fuzzy, he said. He would leave his post "in a heartbeat," he said, if that were the price of getting the funding issue solved.

The commissioners surely won't give Nye any satisfaction prior to the election, because he greatly irritates the volunteer companies and their association's members, who could make a formidable voting bloc if roused.

To break the impasse, members of the CRS board may be tempted to give Nye the heave-ho, as the city government did when he raised some controversy as head of the Board of Public Safety. Before they give up this strong voice, however, they need to be sure of what they're getting in return.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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