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Majority of council supports more fire department jobs

April 26, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

A majority of the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday agreed, in concept, to fund 10 new fire department employees next year and nine more the following year.

Whether to raise taxes, though, is another matter.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker told the council his department has needed 19 more employees since 2000, not because of annexation or growth since then.

"It's now beyond (need)," he said. "It's now critical."

Hawbaker said if the city can't add 19 employees at once, he'd accept 10 next year and nine the following year.

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Eighteen would be firefighters; one would be a training captain.

A majority of the council agreed Tuesday to support Hawbaker's backup plan of hiring nine firefighters and a training captain next year, followed by nine firefighters the following year.

The city council is early in the budget-making process for 2006-07.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman has proposed a $134.4 million budget that carries no increase in the property tax rate. Spending would be $26.2 million higher than in this year's budget.

The base budget does not address requests to hire more police and fire department employees or a plan to boost the wages of underpaid city employees. Under Zimmerman's budget plan, either measure would require a tax-rate increase.

The council is scheduled to discuss the budget further on May 2, 9 and 16. It will have public hearings May 16.

It must have a final budget by the end of May.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner reiterated his view Tuesday that the additional fire department employees are so important that they'd be worth a tax increase to fund.

He said Hagerstown might have the only paid department that allows one firefighter to respond alone on an engine to a fire.

"That's unacceptable," he said.

Three other council members said they agree with Metzner on funding 19 new fire department employees over two years.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said she doesn't want to raise taxes to do it.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire has put forth a separate proposal to hire six firefighters per year over a three-year period. He projected the cost at $300,000 for the 2006-07 budget.

He said he won't support a budget that raises taxes.

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