|Fire / EMS Tax Increase Proposal|
|By President John Caulder II (JP)|
|January 4, 2018|
Second District Volunteer Department & Rescue Squad
SUBJECT: Fire / EMS Tax Increase Proposal
To the Concerned Citizens of 2nd & 9th District,
Thank you for attending the October 16th Public Forum. The intent of this letter is to address your questions and concerns regarding the budget for the Second District Fire Department and Rescue Squad. The mission of the Second District Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad (SDVFDRS) is to protect life and property in the 2nd & 9th Election Districts of St. Mary’s County as well as our neighboring fire and emergency medical (EMS) organizations. The SDVFDRS is staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, including weekends and holidays. There are no “days off.” No paid personnel. No bills are sent out for services rendered.
The SDVFDRS has not requested a Fire Tax increase since 2000 (17 years) or EMS tax since 2005 (12 years). Operational costs such as purchase of apparatus, EMS supplies, medications and patient care consumables, Fire / EMS related equipment, technology, training, insurance and utilities have steadily increased over the years. The current Fire / EMS station built in 1961, has undergone 6 renovations / additions (latest 2007) and is inadequate to allow operations to be safely conducted for the next 50 years. How many business owners currently continue to provide the service they did at the same cost 17 years ago? How many business owners during that same period have not adapted to changing equipment, safety standards, and technology, to improve their operations and profitability? As a community member stated at the public forum, “they’re asking to move into the 21st Century.”
In October 2016, a Membership Vote of Confidence reaffirmed the Department’s support to build a new Fire & EMS Station on our current property. In 2014, a Feasibility Study conducted by Hueber Breuer Construction, Syracuse, NY recommended a larger, more functional station at our existing location. They did study a substation at a northern location within our district and rehabilitation of our current building, but advised a new building based on our needs, the state of our current facility and area of service.
A substation in the area of Chingville Road was researched. The Department must maintain a presence in the central region of our first due area. A substation in this area would expand the mission into mutual aid response areas; therefore, this Department, the mutual aid companies, and St. Mary’s County would need discuss and devise a plan. The substation would require a financial commitment from the community to acquire land, planning and construction funds and for duplicate fire and rescue vehicles. The substation would also require personnel which would potentially be shifted from the Department’s central location and mutual aid companies; leaving those locations without proper coverage and/or not maintaining the 5-minute response requirement.
A safe, modern station containing state of the art safety standards, adequate spaces for formalized training courses, individual space for members to study and utilize IT, social spaces for members while on duty (e.g. eat, sleep, recreation), a fitness facility, and security systems will create a positive environment for members to remain onsite longer; reducing emergency response times. We continue to strive to decrease response time, DNR’s (do not respond times) which may eventually reduce individual homeowners’ ISO (Insurance Services Office) Insurance Premiums. Social spaces will allow family members to visit while a member is on duty. When families visit, it encourages the next generations to become members. The visitation also promotes and demonstrates community support and volunteerism within the family; instilling irreplaceable values. As we stated,”most of our volunteers have families and full time professions; therefore, have limited hours to give.” These limited hours include response to Fire / EMS calls, training / recertification hours, administrative duties, station clean-up, standbys, and fundraisers.
The SDVFDRS is a multimillion dollar organization required to follow Federal, State, and Local regulations and guidelines in providing a Fire / EMS services. We submit an annual budget to the St. Mary’s County with a 5 year envision plan and are audited yearly by a certified consultant. The current station will remain “as is” and will support the Auxiliary and other community organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Board of Elections). The St. Mary’s County Public Works Department has visited our building spaces for possible county utilization and funding help. Rehabilitation of existing spaces is currently not planned, but will be driven by community response and St. Mary’s County Public Works.
The proposed modern facility will support public and private areas and provide spaces for apparatus, storage, decontamination, training, fitness as well as have specialized training features to support small space confinement and rappelling training. The Paul Hall Training facility is frequently used for training at no cost. While many training opportunities exist, the facility is designed and built specifically for shipboard firefighting training. Additionally, the Paul Hall Center is under no obligation to allow any local fire department to train at their facility. If it was not for the fact that several members of the department are employed there, the availability of the facility for training of our volunteers may not even exist. Training facilities available at the home site would allow members to train closer to home, respond to emergency calls in a more expeditious manner, and keep emergency equipment in the station during inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances.
A shortage of volunteers is an ongoing problem for all community based organizations. Will a new station fix “recruitment and retention?” Per input from Lexington Park Rescue Squad, Bay District VFD, and Hollywood VFD, a modern facility does attract and keep younger members. Young people are accustomed to fast paced resources and modern facilities with amenities, including recreation and fitness spaces and IT technology. More volunteer departments are taking on “live-ins” to improve reliability during hours when few volunteers are available. The live-ins, college students or part-time workers, get free housing. The Concept Plan for new station is designed to accommodate modern living accommodations.
The SDVFDRS is currently not in the business to hire Full Time Employees (FTE’s) to run calls during the day, weekends, and evenings. Per Commissioner Jarboe, the county is not fiscally prepared for that challenge at this time. As a 100% volunteer service, career Fire and EMS salaries and benefits are alleviated, providing a substantial cost savings to the community.
The SDVDRS membership discussed and considered the impact of a tax increase on the elderly and fixed and low income families: homeowners in 2nd District would pay additional $21.00 per 100k annually and homeowners in 9th District would pay additional $ 23.00 per 100k annually. As with any business, difficult decisions must be made. Therefore, in order to meet increasing yearly budget expenses and to grow the organization to meet future requirements and goals, the membership agreed to move forward with the tax increase. Our combined Fire and EMS organization reduces facility expenses to the community; as utilities, insurance, liability, maintenance are shared by both services.
The concept plan (floor plan layout) and square footage of proposed station have not been finalized. The proposed station does not include a social hall, as the membership agreed that the additional cost of $2 million was not justifiable. The new station Concept Plan is on SDVFDRS web for community review. When the new station concept plan is finalized, contracts will be sent to available builders and returned as sealed bids. Until this is done, a final cost of new station cannot be determined.
Senior citizens living in the 2nd and 9th district on a fixed income continue to generously support the volunteer system. The Senior Property Tax Credit, established by the St. Mary’s County Board of Commissioners in February 2004, may provide savings to the elderly. The Maryland General Assembly and the County Commissioners created the Senior Property Tax Credit to assist seniors in keeping up with escalating real property values, assessments, and taxes on the homes. For further details, contact the Senior Property Tax Credit at the Office of the County Treasurer, located at 23150 Leonard Hall Drive, Patuxent Building, Leonardtown, Maryland 20650 (301-475-4472).
Emergency apparatus access to private properties is the responsibility of the property owners.
The department grant writer is researching numerous grants to offset the cost of the new station including funding for helo pad, station construction, vehicle exhaust systems, and security system. Grant monies cannot be requested or secured until a timeline is determined.
• Commissioner O’Conner. Reimbursement of EMS Supplies. Response: MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital has not and will not replace various EMS supplies, expired medications and patient care consumables. St. Mary’s County Ambulance Association has addressed a letter to St. Mary’s County Commissioners; all the rescue squads pay for numerous supplies from their operating budgets. St. Mary’s Ambulance Association unanimously supports the SDVFDRS request for the Rescue Tax increase.
• Commissioner Morgan. Requested back up information regarding expenses that Maryland State will be adding in providing Rt. 249 entrance to new station. Status: Question submitted to architects. Response is being investigated.
• Commissioner Guy. Requested better definition on the 50 year master plan. Response: County Commissioners and Public Works have an electronic copy of 2014 Feasible Study. A 50-year vision is a little impractical given we have no idea what the changes in innovation and technology will occur in a long time frame.
• Commissioner Hewitt. Why 2nd and 9th Districts had different tax rates. Response: Researching. St. Mary’s County records only go back 10 years. Historical issue and has no bearing on the current or future situation.
As an organization, we stand committed to accepting the challenge of cultivating these strategic goals into reality, enhancing the services we offer to the community, and meeting our future vision. While we acknowledge our department may not fully achieve the stated goal within a few years, we believe it is important to take the initiative and design a framework that will guide us in our efforts to meet future challenges. Fundraisers will continue and department will continue to save money towards this project. Operational responsibilities are priority. Boards of Directors are fiscally responsible.
Thank you for your continued support.
John P Caulder II