Prince George’s fire officials seek to extinguish budget woes -- Gazette.Net



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While calls for service are up and volunteer staffing is down in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, officials are trying to figure out how to keep expenditures within budget.

“In the end, delivering service to the citizens in Prince George’s County is my primary objective,” said Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.

The department is currently on pace to be $4.3 million over its $132 million annual budget in fiscal 2013, said Bashoor.

That overage is due to factors such as calls for service increasing by 10,000 — largely due to a higher population — the level of volunteer staffing declining from roughly 3,300 to 2,500 and the department’s budget remaining the same for more than a decade, Bashoor said.

About 70 percent of the department’s budget goes into personnel, which includes salary, retirement and other benefits, Bashoor said.

He said only about 1,200 of the 2,500 active volunteers are fully certified for firefighting and are able to ride on apparatus.

Chuck Walker, the president of the Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said the main reason the department’s budget has gone over is because of the pay for career firefighters to work overtime.

“The budget is absolutely gone because of overtime and the only way they can help to curb that is to ask volunteers to do more,” Walker said.

Walker said the county is considering a newer way to have volunteers commit to working certain days that would help staff stations by knowing what shifts volunteers can work 60 days, a plan that he said would help reduce the amount of overtime needed.

To meet budget requirements, the department is considering cost-cutting measures such as reassigning personnel and allowing some stations in close proximity to others to be maintained with fewer personnel, Bashoor said.

“As a resident of this county, any time I learn I’m going to get less service today than I did yesterday, it’s a concern,” said Bashoor of Bowie. “But in the case of the fire department, we live in a place where two stations can meet the [within seven-minute] response time. There are places in the county where 15 stations [out of 45] can meet the response time.”

Bashoor said the command staff has asked the volunteer firefighters to guarantee the department a certain number of hours for volunteer staffing. That agreement could save $120,000, he said.

Walker said it is difficult to retain volunteers given that the current state of the economy has caused families to work longer hours, meaning volunteers have to commit more to their day jobs. In addition, he said the requirements to become a full-service volunteer have gone up from an 80-hour training class to nearly 300 hours of training.

Barry Stanton, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for public safety, said he will be a part of the budget analysis process. He said the county needs to look at how stations are staffed, which could free the fire/EMS department from relying on overtime pay to career firefighters.

“Obviously, we have budget issues. The county has a $152 million deficit, but the county has committed to a budget where public safety is at the top of the list,” Stanton said. “We need to do a clear analysis of not just operational needs and overtime, but also staffing needs and how we deploy staffing resources as a fire department.”

Bashoor said there is no time table for when the county must make a decision on where to cut costs, but the fiscal year ends June 30.

djgross@gazette.net