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Commissioners tentatively agree to pay for fire and rescue physicals

April 24, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials on Tuesday reopened discussion about whether to budget funds for physical examinations for fire and rescue volunteers.

At the urging of Commissioner William B. McKinley, the five-member Washington County Board of Commissioners reached a consensus to set aside money for the exams.

But the funds will not be awarded until a program can be developed to address the high percentage of recruits who receive physicals, then change their minds about becoming volunteers, they said.

McKinley said that he has been told that figure could be as high as 65 percent.

The commissioners also decided to again postpone a public hearing on the fiscal 2013 county budget until May 22.

The Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association has asked the county for $150,000 to help cover the cost of physicals.

The commissioners last week freed up $200,000 by opting to charge a recycling permit fee, rather than subsidizing the dropoff recycling program with general fund money. They also discussed using some of the money no longer budgeted to subsidize recycling to fund the association’s request.

But McKinley said Tuesday his support was for the recycling fee, not necessarily for funding physicals.

“Somebody needs to pay for physicals, and we need to have them, but I think what we have right now is a very inefficient process that we need to shore up,” he said.

McKinley said the volunteer companies should come up with a plan to provide an incentive for volunteers who receive physicals to stay with the company for a given period, perhaps by requiring them to pay back the cost of the physical if they drop out.

Association President Dale Hill, who was not at the meeting, said afterward that recruiting and retaining volunteers is a problem nationwide, although the 65 percent dropout rate cited seemed higher than what he had observed.

“The association is totally open to any discussions to see what we can do to enhance recruitment and retention,” he said.

However, he said requiring volunteers to pay for their physicals — or even to reimburse the company if they drop out — would make recruiting volunteers even more difficult.

Physical exams cost about $317 for those who will wear breathing apparatus or be exposed to hazardous situations, and about $150 for those in lower-exposure positions, such as drivers, Hill said.

The commissioners Tuesday also reached consensus to:
• Oppose the creation of a new position to staff the County Commuter transfer center. A grant would have covered the cost of the position in fiscal 2013, but McKinley and commissioners Jeffrey A. Cline and John F. Barr were concerned because the grant funding might not be renewed in future years.

• Support upgrading an airport office associate from part-time to full-time. Cline, Barr and Commissioners President Terry Baker supported the move.

• Reject spending $15,830 in additional funds for increased part-time wages requested for the Washington County Board of Elections because it has averaged about $200,000 a year left over in its budget.

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