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Commission eyes emergency services costs
 
 
By: TOM MARTIN, Business Ledger Editor May 14, 2001
 
 
CENTREVILLE - Special taxes, direct billing for services and agreements with private sector entities are all means to increase funding for emergency services, according to a lawyer representing the Maryland Firemen's Association.
 
"You have the right to insure that there is proper public safety protection when you approve new development," said Roger Powell, speaking for the state organization and the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.

He also pointed out to the Queen Anne's County Planning Commission that before emergency services on Kent Island become "an acute problem" there may be a need to "restrain development."

Powell's comments at the regular May meeting of the planning commission came at a time when the KIVFD has changed its fund-raising strategy and the county is re-examining funding and planning for emergency services.

The KIVFD, using a formula that has not been made public, started soliciting donations from developers this spring as their projects were approved by the planning commission. The planners have supported this strategy by urging applicants to voluntarily participate.

But not all developers have participated to the degree asked by the fire department, according to the KIVFD's Jody Schulz. He has led this new fund-raising strategy, reporting its progress to the commission since February.

This issue came to a head when the first building of a 380,000-square-foot expansion strategy by KRM Development of Chestertown was approved during March and April meetings. While KRM has made a donation, Schulz said there has been no response on increasing the amount.

At the May meeting, in what could be regarded as a setback in the KIVFD strategy, planning commission legal counsel Chris Drummond issued an opinion stating that site plan denial cannot be "because an appropriate donation to the affected volunteer fire company has not been made."

The opinion also stated that the planning commission cannot make a "satisfactory donation" a condition of approval. The May 3 opinion spurred the appearance of Powell at the May 10 regular meeting, when he responded to planning commission questions about funding for emergency services.

According to County Administrator Mark Belton and the planning department's development review chief, J. Steven Cohoon, Queen Anne's County is reviewing emergency services, both as part of the Comprehensive Plan Update and the recently created Interim Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (IAFPO).

In a separate interview, Belton said the county budget that becomes effective July 1 will create the position of deputy state fire marshal, who will have the regulatory power to sign off on all new development applications.

He said it will take 30 to 90 days after July 1 to hire such a person. This position will take this sign-off authority from the Department of Public Works, which has been submitting development plans to local fire departments for their review.

The new position also would replace the volunteer efforts of deputy state fire marshal Paul Schlotterbeck, also a KIVFD member. The fire department has been part of the development review process for several months. Other volunteer fire departments in the region, although active in fund-raising, have not chosen the KIVFD strategy.
Belton said that what the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department is doing is "OK," but because of the May 4 legal opinion, the planning commission is not bound by its activities.

Cohoon said the county recently hired a consultant to initiate a countywide emergency management study, to support the goals of the Comprehensive Plan Update as well as the IAFPO. Future emergency services needs based on growth demographics and possible increases in impact fees will be studied, he said.

This is a key issue for the Kent Island fire department, whose leadership maintains that the one-time impact fees are not adequate to insure the growth of emergency services as more development comes to Kent Island. Currently county funds provide from $180,000 to 190,000 of the department's annual $350,000 budget.

And even with current fund-raising levels and money from various state programs, the KIVFD leadership maintains that there is still a significant shortfall each year. This shortfall is also apparent on a long-term basis as the department makes plans to build a new fire station in addition to the maintenance of current vehicles and the purchase of new equipment.

In terms of public revenues, Powell pointed out that these funds are limited, and sought after on a competitive basis. "This year there are no more funds in the '508 program," he said of one source of state money for local fire departments.

Powell and Drummond both noted that many jurisdictions in Maryland have created a "fire tax," so that emergency services can be properly funded. During a period of a tax cap in the 1980s and 1990s, Talbot County adopted such a tax, but it has since been rescinded.

Powell, commission members and the planning staff also recognized that emergency medical services (ambulance transportation and staffing) are moving toward a fee-for-service standard. This trend has been supported by primary care facilities and the medical insurance industry.

Powell said some jurisdictions throughout North America have adopted a direct fee for services, where the recipient receives a bill. "But this is risky, because those who pay in this way also figure that they can sue (if they get inadequate service)," he said.

Powell supported the KIVFD's current drive by saying that the planning commission, as part of its public approval process, can support agreements between local governments and private-sector entities, such as small businesses, corporations and developers.

"They need to understand that they need to contribute," Powell emphasized. He said that the KIVFD funding problems are because "there seems to be a space between those who get services and those who provide services."

Planning commission member Loring Hawes said that the same principle applies to the public approval process. "There is also a difference of what you want and what we can do," he said.

Asked by Drummond if the Kent Island fire department is asking for a moratorium on new development, Powell said, "No, but you should not issue permits unrestrained."

Commission Chairman James Foor said that part of the planning commission's difficulty is that the KIVFD has not "demonstrated to us that one project will impair the response from their fire department."

While he, other commission members and the staff agreed that volunteer fire departments need more money, Foor said, "we don't want to get to the point where you can't do your job - but we don't need to reinvent the wheel, either."

Powell said increased funding to respond to future demographics must also go beyond equipment and response time. "We need to look at recruitment and retention of current staff," he said. He also said the U.S. 50/301 Corridor presents unique problems for emergency services in the region that need to be resolved.

Schulz and Powell also said it takes a long time to repair as well as buy new equipment, since all emergency service vehicles are custom manufactured.
There was also a consensus in the room that a permanent paid staff will be necessary in the Kent Island fire department's future.

Member Karen Oertel, whose family owns a seafood packing business and well-known Kent Narrows restaurant, said she has supported the donation-with-approval strategy based on the notion that "any donation is acceptable."

As for the current KRM permit, Drummond said its approval stands, but he takes a broader view. "Whatever the outcome of the KRM/KIVFD dispute, the planning commission should continue urging landowners to appreciate and support the firefighting and emergency services provided by volunteer fire companies."

He also said if the planning commission were to deny an application based on "public welfare grounds," it would need evidence "premised on some reliable statistical formula relied upon by emergency service professionals.

"To the best of my knowledge, the planning commission has not received evidence meeting those standards to date."

Drummond's opinion is available at the offices of the county administrator and the planning department in Centreville. 

©The Star Democrat 2001
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Town 'neutral' on county's purchase of land



By: NICOLE DYE, Staff May 13, 2001

CENTREVILLE - Concerning a privately-owned piece of property at the wharf area of town, the members of the Centreville Town Council have told the Queen Anne's County Commissioners that they are "neutral" about the prospect of the county purchasing the land to use as a park.
This comes after residents of the town voiced their opinions in support of the county buying the property at the town meeting May 3.

Twenty-five Centreville residents came to the town meeting to have their concerns heard over a recent meeting the town council had with the Queen Anne's County Commissioners. The commissioners asked the town council how they felt about the county purchasing the property at the wharf, now owned by Art Kudner, to use for a park.

Council President Sara Jane Davidson said at the town meeting, when discussing the property with the commissioners, she told the commissioner they have so many parks that she would like to see the property stay on the tax rolls.

Council Vice President Donna Turner was out of town and could not attend the town meeting. Council Member Michael Whitehill had to recuse himself from this discussion.

Davidson said the council currently is doing the budget for the town and they are "striving not to raise taxes." Davidson said the property brings in $25,000 in tax revenue for the town.

Many of the residents of the town did not agree with the council's plan to keep the land on the tax roll and would prefer to have a park.

Former council member Jerry Schram said the town has experienced growth, which will produce additional revenue for the town.

"I'd like to state that the folks coming here need a recreational outlet," said Schram.

David Mills, a new resident to Centreville said, "We're screaming mad that the town would forfeit the chance to have a park."

"We don't have a beautiful place for everyone to use, who can't afford a waterfront home," said resident Bill Price. "The town is missing an opportunity if they don't get the county involved."

One resident said, "I hope you will share with your fellow council members that people are interested in more parks...Not everyone in town is interested in lower taxes."

Col. Henry Dermody (U.S. Army, Ret.) said more people would come to Centreville because of the access to the water, which would bring money to the town. 
Unfortunately, the town has stalled in pursuing this opportunity and Kudner has a contract on the property.

"The county has never come to us before...," Davidson said. "Why did they come to us this time when they could of just purchased it?"

Town Manager Terry Adams said there is a contract on the property. The prospective buyer would like to build 23 condominiums on the property.

At the recent county commissioner meeting, the council - through the town manager - said they were now "neutral" on the subject of the land and would like to see a small revenue come from the property. They would not like to see the property turned into a parking lot, said Adams.

County Commissioner George O'Donnell said there is now a contract on this property so the issue is moot. O'Donnell said the county does not like to do anything with municipal lands unless they discuss it with the town council first. 

"We haven't had a chance to come up with a contingency plan if that contract were to fall through," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said if they were to purchase the land, they do not have a plan for the use of the land. He said the area would be some type of open space for public use.

Dermody said, "It would be wise to put a contract on the property in case the one there falls through." 
 

©The Star Democrat 2001
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