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Hagerstown City Council mulls hiring more firefighters

December 12, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday he would push for a vote to hire nine firefighters for the city, despite a recommendation by city staff to wait until revenue projections are more certain.

The firefighters were proposed to be hired Feb. 1, 2008, but City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman and City Finance Director Alfred Martin on Tuesday told the City Council that it should delay discussing the issue until April.

Martin said the city should know by then whether the Maryland General Assembly plans to cut financial assistance to municipal governments.

Each new firefighter would cost the city about $59,336 per year in salary and benefits, according to city records.

"The budget that we moved anticipated hiring these people," said Metzner, who received applause from firefighters sitting in the audience.

He said Hagerstown needs the firefighters to provide additional coverage for the city, which has grown through annexation. Metzner said he would make a motion for the council to vote on hiring the firefighters before Feb. 1, 2008.

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Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said the council shouldn't rush into hiring the firefighters and vowed to vote against the proposal if taxes would have to be raised.

"I think we desperately need these safety-service personnel ... But we need to listen to our chief financial officer," she said.

Councilman Martin Brubaker and Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean agreed, adding the council should wait until January, when the city's financial future is more clear, to discuss the issue further.

Brubaker said Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker and the city staff told the council that the firefighters were needed to replace a decrease in volunteers - not to protect annexed property.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said she would vote to hire the firefighters regardless of the budget's outlook.

"I will not labor this," she said. "That is where I stand."

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said after the meeting that the department would remain shorthanded if the council rejects his request to hire the firefighters.

The new hires would bring the fire department up to minimum standards, or 16 firefighters who could respond to a fire at one time, he said. The department currently has 14.

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