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Reducing Fire Protection in Germantown is Not the Answer to County’s Budget Woes

County Executive Ike Leggett is playing with fire, well at least he’s playing with fire protection in Germantown. Leggett has suggested the elimination of a full-time, full-staffed paramedic engine from the central Germantown fire station on Crystal Rock Drive.

This sort of budget cutting should be unacceptable to a town of over 100,000 residents. Once again, the County Executive has decided that the Germantown area is unworthy of support from his office.

The cuts are a means to the end of making up for the $120 million budget shortfall which has occurred because in the 12 years he’s been the County Executive he’s been unable to attract and keep jobs in the County. As a result, taxpaying residents and businesses have been fleeing to neighboring Northern Virginia.

County leadership decided the best way to improve on 1.1 percent economic growth was with new business regulations and a $15 minimum wage. Now, very few of the educated, motivated workforce in Germantown can’t get jobs in Germantown or the County. Germantown’s working families struggle to afford housing and a long commute to other jurisdictions. How are they rewarded for not packing up and leaving Germantown and Montgomery County for a shorter commute? Why, with a tax increase, of course.

While Leggett’s proposed plan makes cuts to almost all County departments, in an ironic twist the Office of Management and Budget’s budget will increase of $189,374 or 4 percent to $4.9 million. Meanwhile, the cuts to the entire MCFRS budget would only yield just $2.2 million in savings. The Germantown engine would cost just $499,000.

Leggett first proposed the elimination of Fire Engine 729 back in January, and the County Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously voted to reinstate the $499,000 in funding for the Engine 729’s full-time crew, and it seemed Germantown’s fire protection would remain the same.

But, when Leggett introduced his final FY19 Operating Budget last in late March, the cuts to Engine 729, and Engine 709 in Hyattstown, as well as, a full-time ladder truck in Hillandale were reinstated.

Would such cuts be tolerated in Kensington or Chevy Chase? Would they even be considered for an incorporated area like Gaithersburg or Rockville? The pushback from those communities would be as loud as a fire alarm. Clearly Leggett isn’t expected any dust-up from Germantown, because who will speak up? There is no mayor, no voice of Germantown. By reinstating the cuts, Leggett has shown he doesn’t respect the opinion of our elected representatives on the County Council.

Germantown’s elected Council Representative Craig Rice said he was “disappointed” that the County Executive ignored the recommendations of the Public Safety Committee and ‘tried yet again to deny people adequate fire service in the bustling regions of the UpCounty.”

Germantown’s 100,000-plus residents should be more than disappointed, they should be down right angry. It is time that Montgomery County stop treating Germantown residents like second-class citizens, and bring them into the fold of top-tier municipalities.

The elimination of Engine 729 will leave Germantown’s 100,000 residents with just two full-time, round-the-clock, professionally staffed fire engines, Engine 722 housed at the Kingsview Fire Station 22 at corner of Germantown Road and Clopper Road, and Engine 734 housed at the Milestone Fire Station 34 at Rt. 355 and Boland Farm Road.

At the same time Leggett plans to eliminate fire protection for Germantown families, construction work is about to begin in earnest on two large mixed-use residential/commercial development projects which will bring thousands of new residents and, hopefully, new employees to Engine 729’s first-due area.

According to MCFRS data, the average arrival time for a first engine to structure fire in urban areas of the county, such as Germantown, was 12.9 minutes in the first quarter of FY2018, an increase of 4.7 minutes from the same time in FY2017. Does anyone believe that the response times of a first due engine in Germantown will go down with one less full-time, full-staffed engine?

MCFRS data also indicates that structure fire and medical incidents have been increasing 3-4 percent annually, but the number of engines and aerial units have remained constant since FY15. But, if these cuts go through, the number of calls will continue to increase, while the number of engines will actually decrease. What kind of a leader puts his citizenry in danger? It helps if you are not running for re-election, and for that, the residents of Germantown should be happy.

Indeed, MCFRS states that the desired goal for response times to a structure fire in an urban area for the first arriving engine is 8.33 minutes, which is the 90th percentile nationwide. The current MCFRs response time for the first engine in an urban area is 10.05 minutes, which the MCFRS lists as “Needs Improvement.” Certainly, MCFRS won’t improve response times in Germantown by eliminating a full-time, fully-staffed engine.

According to a Public Safety Committee Staff memo, “The reduction of engine staffing at (Fire Station 729) will increase engine response times in central Germantown. The benchmark response time for Germantown is 7:15, and in calendar 2017, the unit met this 62.5 percent of the time.”

Germantown Pulse urges County leaders to remove these cuts from the operating budget and keep Germantown’s fire protection intact. If cuts need to be made, we urge County leadership to find the funds to cut from other programs, and protect our residents.

Germantown Pulse urges residents and civic leaders in Germantown to attend one or all of the County Council’s five public hearings on April 10, 11 and 12 on Montgomery County’s Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget. The public hearings will be held at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, April 10; at 1:30 pm and 7:00 pm on Wednesday, April 11; and at 1:30 pm and 7:00 pm on Thursday, April 12. All hearings will be held in the third floor hearing room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave.

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