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MoCo Professional Firefighters Pull Out of Talks

Montgomery County

The fallout from the ambulance fee debate in Montgomery County continues: The county's professional firefighters union said today that it is pulling out of negotiations to help close a projected $250 million budget shortfall next year because the County Council won't support the fee.

John Sparks, president of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association, said in a statement that the union had been having an "excellent dialogue" with County Executive Isiah Leggett's administration about fire department budget adjustments.

Leggett's plan to create an ambulance transport fee to boost funding for fire and emergency services would charge health insurance companies -- not residents -- $300 to $800, depending on the service. But some residents and the county's well-organized volunteer firefighters oppose it, contending that such a fee would discourage people from calling for help.

Responding to the opposition, a majority of council members don't want to go forward with the fee. Instead. Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville)last week proposed earmarking money from fines raised by red light and speed cameras to pay for fire-rescue equipment and pedestrian safety programs.

Sparks called the Andrews plan "an illusionary proposition" because it wouldn't raise new revenue. "This looks like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic as it is sinking," his statement said.

By Anne Bartlett  |  November 21, 2008; 4:55 PM ET
Categories:  Montgomery County  
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What is illusionary is that this fee wouldn't be passed on to homeowners. There is no free lunch. The executive and council are going to give us a great big property tax hike next year. They are talking all kinds of user fees. They are using us homeowners with these fees. They give thrift lip service and then give away the store using homeowners as ATMs.

The DOW is now where it was when the county budget was well below $3 billion. County officials, with a $4.3 billion budget are spending as if the Dow were still at 14,000.

Posted by: robinfickerofrobinrealty | November 21, 2008 8:06 PM | Report abuse

The speed camera fees are new revenue. We have only had them for a little more than a year. They have saved thousands of police manhours. Surely police overtime has been cut by a concommitant amount.

Posted by: robinfickerofrobinrealty | November 21, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

The nerve of Phil Andrews trying to spend the money from the county's speed camera contract which Leggett had already allocated for producing YouTube videos. Whose slush fund is this anyways?

According to the original Post article "County budget writers do not specifically track how money from speeding tickets is spent", so spending the same money twice is probably OK by Montgomery County standards. ACS will be happy to install as many cameras as Mr Andrews wants under the county's contract which pays them a per-ticket fee in violation of article 21-809(j) of the Maryland Code. In the minutes of May 2006, before the county's contract was signed, Councilmember Andrews said "contractors are not paid based on the number of citations, that's built-in". Andrews is too close to the speed camera program NOT to have known how this contract worked.

Sure the county will be forced renegotiate this contract in time, with their cronies in Annapolis providing cover until the current contract runs its course, and until the county can find a more covert way of maximizing their ticket revenues. But even after this conflict became public knowledge in April, and after Leggett said in May the county would renegotiate that contract, the city of Takoma Park was allowed to join that contract in SEPTEMBER 2008 under the same terms, with an agreement which included the following clause:
"If the total of the City’s paid citation revenues are less than $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for two consecutive months or for any two months in a six-month period during the term of the agreement or any renewals, the contract provides for a renegotiation of the per citation rate and/or the monthly minimum compensation payable to the contractor. If the City, in its sole discretion, is not satisfied with the results of such renegotiation or with the revenues derived from the photo speed enforcement program or the City determines that photo speed enforcement is no longer an appropriate enforcement mechanism for the City, then the City may terminate this Agreement"
Basically, the city wanted this quota to *gaurantee* that the program would generate revenue. If ACS were able to almost completely eliminate speeding, shouldn't they be rewarded rather than penalized? But since most of this money comes from out of town residents who don't know about the cameras yet, it's "free money" right? (The perversion of our justice system into a revenue system notwithstanding). Just be sure to warn your friends and relatives who come to visit you this holiday that if they're not careful they may have a christmas card from Andrews and Leggett waiting for them when they get home.

Posted by: SBBMD | November 22, 2008 4:03 AM | Report abuse

Charging residents, or their insurance companies for ambulance calls is NOT a good idea. Too many people would resist calling, fearing the obvious: that they either would not be covered by insurance, or that their insurance premiums would increase. The time needed to get the requisite information would be better spent caring for and transporting the patient. Traffic cameras are a source of new money that can and should be used for real public good, such as ambulance service and new fire equipment.

Posted by: Boomer4 | November 22, 2008 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Please remember that this is an argument over NEW spending. And it's the same old argument from the unions, the council and the county executive - "we have to have a world-class such-and such (plug-in your favorite service) so our budget needs to be raised". And now they've framed the argument to a choice between two bad alternatives to raise the money to cover the "shortfall" in the budget. How about not raising spending at all? Right now we should be cutting the current budget instead putting out an increased budget.

Posted by: fugo | November 24, 2008 6:29 AM | Report abuse

In light of the shortfall, shouldn't we also consider whether paying retirement benefits after only 20 years of service is a good idea? Shouldn't we consider increasing the time of service before paying retirement benefits?

Posted by: robinfickerofrobinrealty | November 24, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

All of you are crazy. If you live in Montgomery County, you are paying twice for your neighbors or yourself to go to the hospital. First you pay your taxes to the county. But the county does not charge for EMS so you save your health care company money (and don't bet on them sharing any of that money with you, that is more money for their rich CEO to blow on some useless widgets). You (or your employer) still pay the same amount for your health insurance (EMS cost are a part of your health plan, you might actually want to read it for once so you KNOW THE TRUTH). See how you are paying twice to take an ambulance ride? Also the county does not want YOUR money. They want the insurance companies' money. You will be billed nothing (unless you are not a county resident). The other item that nobody will tell the truth about is how the nursing homes in the county abuse 911 because the county does not charge for EMS calls. The nursing homes abuse the ambulance that COUNTY TAX PAYERS pay for instead of using private ambulances for non emergencies. Think about it the next time you call 911 and an ambulance has to come from further away because YOUR ambulance is at a nursing home taking a NON EMERGENCY transport because the NURSING HOME CEO needs a fatter pay check.

Posted by: biteme5 | November 24, 2008 10:58 PM | Report abuse

As usual, leave it up to the volunteers to screw things up. Fairfax County, VA and Prince George's Co. MD have charged ambulance fees for years. And their call volume has increased not decreased! The volunteers just want the donations from people, who already pay taxes, so they can play "fireman and fire chief". Grow up!

Posted by: firebrew | November 25, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

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