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County Council Still Mulling Cuts to Fire Service in the UpCounty

Despite the urging of its own Public Safety Committee to reinstate the funding, the members of Montgomery County Council are still considering the County Executive’s proposed cuts of fire engines and staff in Germantown, Hyattstown, and Hillandale to close the budget gap in the FY19 operating budget.

Last week, the County Council approved the items to be consider for reinstatement on the Council’s Reconciliation List. The list would add $21.6 million to $5.56 billion operating budget for the fiscal year 2019. Included on the list was $6.7 million in additional funding for MCFRS, to restore proposed cuts to in Hyattstown, Germantown, and Hillandale fire stations.

The Germantown Pulse has learned that the cuts are still in the possible as Council members wrangle to pare down the $21.6 million Reconciliation List.

Council President Hans Riemer said, “The Reconciliation List vastly exceeds the amount of money that we have available. Therefore, we go through a final process of trying to match up the amount of money that we have versus what we want to spend it on. Within Fire and Rescue we have been working to see, if we don’t have all the money to restore all the funding, what would be the priority order. Some have said that an UpCounty station should be cut, others have said a Silver Spring station should be cut. There is no bias in that. We are probably going to restore 100 percent of the cuts.”

He added that protecting the Germantown and Hyattstown stations were the top priorities to protect. “The priority list that I have seen has protecting the Germantown station as number one, protecting the Hyattstown station is number two,” said Riemer. “Protecting those stations is more important, and other stations are considered less important because of redundancy in those areas.” However, he added, “Just because I say that, does not necessarily mean that is where this process will end up. We are trying to find the money to restore those cuts.”

The budget, which is Leggett’s last as County Executive, contains an overall two percent increase of the Fiscal Year 2018 Operating Budget. The County’s new fiscal year begins July 1, 2018. The County is also continuing to struggle with dealing with an estimated $120 million budget shortfall.

In April, Council’s Public Safety Committee which is made up of three members, At-Large Councilmember Marc Elrich, District 5 (Takoma Park/Silver Spring/Burtonsville) representative Tom Hucker, and District 3 (Gaithersburg/Derwood/Rockville) representative Sidney Katz, recommended 3-0 to restore funding for all three proposed cuts to the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service, including the proposed cut to the fire engine in Germantown.

The elimination of Paramedic 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. Volunteer Engine 729B, which is owned and operated by the Germantown Volunteer Fire Department will remain at Crystal Rock Drive, but the full-time firefighters and the apparatus will be reassigned.

The elimination of Engine 729 in Germantown would yield a cost savings of $1.3 million and relocate nine full-time firefighters to other stations in the County and increase response times to the engine’s current first-due area by two minutes, from 6:00 minutes to 8:00 minutes.

The elimination of Engine 709 in Hyattstown would yield $2.5 million in savings and relocate 12 full-time firefighters to other stations in the County and response times for the Engine 709 first-due areas without this unit could increase from 6- to 8-minutes to 10- to 12-minutes.

Besides the $6.7 million to maintain fire protection in the County, the Reconciliation List includes an additional:

$1.8 million for Montgomery College from the Education Committee,

$663,000 for various services from the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee,

$5.4 million from the Health and Human Services Committee,

$4.8 million in services for the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, including $2.7 million for the Maryland – National Capital Park and Planning Commission Fund,

$1.5 million in services for the Transportation and Environment Committee,

The Reconciliation List also includes $1.4 million for additional staff for the Montgomery County Police Department in the form of new recruits.

Photos by Germantown Pulse.

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