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January 12, 2004

Who is paying for the Ad Hoc committee
by Matthew Tobia

Now that the Ad Hoc Committee appointed by the County Executive is completing its review of alleged overspending by the Fire Department I am curious to know whether the Baltimore Sun is going to ask for an investigation into the amount of taxpayer dollars it cost the County to produce its report.

There have been no less than 4 comprehensive fire service studies conducted by County Administrations over the past decade including the Turner Commission, EMS 2000, Mrs. Owen’s Transition Team, and most recently the Maximus study (at a cost of 100,000 dollars).  Every report has consistently reached the same conclusion – the Fire Department needs more people to provide critical services in a County that continues to permit unchecked growth without requiring developers to accept their share of the cost for that expansion.  Specifically, the Maximus study (conducted at the request of the County Executive) concluded that the County needs 5 new fire stations today and 1 new fire station every year for the next 5 years - each staffed with a fire engine and paramedic ambulance.  This conclusion reveals the true depth of the need for more people in a County that has failed to meet its required legal duty to ensure adequate emergency services.  The responsibility for this failure falls directly on the County Executive’s Office.

How interesting would it be to find out that the cost of the report produced by the Ad Hoc Committee exceeded the amount of money spent by Chief Simonds to complete the project for which he has taken such criticism.  I do not recall a provision in this year’s budget for such an expenditure.  Perhaps the Sun could investigate that and while you are at it, participate in the creation of a blue ribbon panel to identify funding sources for the recommendations in the Report.  

Unless funding mechanisms are secured, this report will go the way of the last four reports. It will be placed on a shelf with the grateful acknowledgement of the County Executive and nothing will change except that the demands placed on the dedicated men and women of the Fire Department will increase under a “Do More with Less” mentality.  And The Sun will be on to its next investigative article in the sincere hope not of improving public safety, but of making more profits for its shareholders.

Matthew Tobia
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania