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Q & A: Montgomery County's Ambulance Fee, Pt. Two

How did the county wind up with an ambulance fee?

 

Earlier this month, Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association announced they had signed an passed by the Montgomery County Council.

This is Part Two of a two-part “Q & A” about the fee. Answers are taken from a county website with questions and answers about the new law, from Patch reports on the fee and from other local media, as noted.

Part Two discusses how the agreement on the fee came to pass:

Q: Why is the county doing this now?

A: “Montgomery County is about to be hit by a ‘tidal wave’ from Annapolis,” the county website says.

The Maryland General Assembly in May approved . The result is that Montgomery County will have to cover more than $400 million over 10 years in teacher pension costs.

The legislature also approved a so-called “maintenance of effort” law, which requires that per-pupil spending remain the same or increase from one fiscal year to the next. That law could cost the county at least $25 million per year.

Q: Didn’t county voters reject ambulance fees?

A: Yes.  by a 54-percent-to-46-percent margin in a 2010 ballot question. The .

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D)

In signing the agreement earlier this month, he cited cuts to libraries and employee benefits and other areas of the county budget as evidence of the need for the fee.

Q: How much does the county expect to collect from the fee?

A: The fee is projected to generate $18 million a year.

Q: Where will the money go?

A: The revenue will go to additional fire and rescue service staffing, training, apparatus, facilities and equipment.

“One-hundred percent of the net proceeds of the EMS Program will go towards Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service to improve and expand critically needed services and save County lives and property,” the county website says.

In its first year, Leggett said, the fee will pay for:

  • Two new fire engines.
  • A new rescue unit
  • Five new ambulances.
  • Full staffing for eight engine companies, 13 ladder companies and four rescue squads.
  • Facility maintenance and repairs at county- and volunteer-owned stations.
  • Protective equipment for firefighters.
  • Replacement of apparatus.
  • Maintenance, utility costs and personnel for .
  • Training of new recruits, allowing the county to add firefighters and restore service at stations where service was reduced.

Under the agreement, Leggett will propose an amendment to the fiscal 2013 budget and future budgets that would put 15 percent of the net revenue from the fee to local fire and rescue departments. The amount would “supplement and not supplant” the current fire and rescue service budget.

“Spending less taxpayer dollars to enhance essential Fire & Rescue services frees up money that can be spent on other core needs, such as education; other public safety services; the safety net for seniors and the most vulnerable; libraries; recreation centers; and road maintenance,” the county’s website says.

Q: Did the volunteer firefighters cave to the county?

A: Some county residents feel that they did, according to an article in Saturday’s Washington Times.

In a letter published in The Times on Aug. 20, Rockville resident Brad Botwin said that Eric Bernard, the volunteer association’s executive director, “sold his soul to the devil.” The volunteers crafted a behind-the-scenes deal with the county while portraying themselves as again championing a petition opposing the fee, Botwin wrote. The result, he wrote, “stifled other community organizations from” organizing opposition to the fee.

Click here to read the full letter.

The volunteers don’t see it that way.

In a letter in The Times on Monday, John T. Bentivoglio, a lawyer for the volunteers association, called Botwin’s letter “ill-informed.” The association’s negotiations—which Bentivoglio called “successful”—were concurrent with a new petition drive, he wrote.

“When a good solution is offered, it can be wise to take it,” he wrote. “That’s what happened here.”

Click here to read the full letter.

Bill Hussein O'Stalin September 09, 2012 at 12:16 PM
The best solutions in Montgomery County always lead to higher fees or taxes for the citizens of Montgomery County.

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