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Council Workshop on Fire Department Staffing Set for Thursday

City Council and Ocean City Fire Department officials will discuss a proposal to save money by changing the department staffing model.

 

City Council will hold a workshop meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, to discuss a proposal to save money by changing the Ocean City Fire Department staffing model.

The public session is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. at the .

At a Nov. 29 City Council meeting, Councilman Keith Hartzell presented  that he suggests, over time, could save Ocean City taxpayers more than $400,000 annually. The basic premise of the proposal is to replace a select number of retiring firefighters with lower-paid emergency medical technicians.

Hartzell suggested the next step in the process should be a workshop with input from the mayor's administration and the Fire Department.

Fire Department representatives have questioned the feasibility of the proposal.

Julie Baumgardner January 02, 2012 at 05:09 PM
FiT (Fairness in Taxes) will have Fire Department representatives attend our monthly meeting on Friday January 6 at 3pm in the Library. Come and carry on the discussion from Thursday night. Your comments are welcomed. LIKE us on Facebook, or visit our website, www.fairnessintaxes.com
bob smith January 03, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Lets have the workshop, openly discuss the issues and then make a decision on the fire department once and for all. It really boils down to one simple question. Are the few pennies you might save on your taxes worth the reduction in the quality of service you will receive? If you answer yes, vote for the Ping/Hartzell change, If you answer no, vote against the Ping/Hartzell change. I ahve lived in our great town for many, many years and the thing that bothers me about this issue the most is that our long time elected officials dont really have a clue about how our fire deprtment runs their operations. How can our council people still not know the basic information? How many calls the fire department runs, fire/ems, water rescue calls and how they are performed. Lets put this issue to bed folks, once and for all and move on to more important matters.
Eric Sauder January 03, 2012 at 02:46 PM
At Last! Hopefully the Fire Department will be adequately represented at this meeting? And even more importantly will be willing to discuss, point by point, the proposal advanced by Hartzell and Ping? Or make a counter proposal that will maintain the level of service close to where it is and still save taxpayer money? That’s a lot to hope for I know, but it’s a new year full of hope. Why not get it off to a good start?
bob smith January 03, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I agree Eric but who doesnt want to save money on everything right? People would like to pay less than 6% to sell their home and pay less than $18.99/pound for filet mignon etc... Again, this all boils down to the savings versus the loss in quality of service. It sound like the Ping/Hartzell model will only save the average taxpayer, ( meaning a property assessemnt of $650,000 which appears to be the number people most often use) $1 - $2 per month on their taxes. Not enough to even take the chance on a public safety emergency issue. I may be alone in this opinion but this whole matter appears to be a personal issue between Ping and Hartzell disliking the fire department. Every year they come up with another way to come after the fire department. Think about the past few years, first in was close a fire station, then privitization, then reduce the number of firemen. It sure seems obvious to me that they just have an ax to grind and just masquerade their vendatta behind a cost savings banner.
Eric Sauder January 04, 2012 at 02:26 AM
That's an interesting way to look at it. Hopefully it won't begin and end with the fire department. Maybe the police department will be next? I confess for me it's a matter of principle. This town is like heaven for city employees, school teachers, and public servants who all make more money here (it seems) than they would make working just about any place else. I don't think anyone wants to compromise on public safety, but there's a cost associated with all of this that has to be figured into the equation. Maybe for me it's sour grapes. I make a tenth of what those people make and I work just as hard. Far from being compnesated for sick days I don't use I don't get paid if I don't show up for work. I am finally getting benefits which I contribute a considerable amount to but a pension? You won't even find that in a major corporations today. Some of us that pay those salaries (thru our taxes) struggle to do so, and for what? That's my perspective.
Eric Sauder January 04, 2012 at 02:42 AM
$1 or $2 a month won't make that much difference to me. And perhaps I shouldn't begrudge the people that make so much more than I do. Maybe it is only an exercise in politics or someone's personal vandetta. There are so many inequities in this world. But some of us are being squeezed beyond belief to make others even more wealthy. I generally pay water bills in excess of what I make a week (for example). This madness has to stop somewhere.
Eric Sauder January 04, 2012 at 03:22 AM
When you consider the massive tax base of a town like Ocean City, especially in light of the relatively few people who actually live here, have you ever wondered where (exactly) all that money goes? So now we're soon going to receive compensation from other municipalities for the students they send to OCHS. What do you think the chances are that the school budget (and school taxes) will decrease??? I'll bet my last paycheck they'll go up. Any takers?
bob smith January 04, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Taxes will never go down. The money will be spent in other areas. Lets jsut see how it all plays out and hope it is in the best interest of the City of Ocean City. The people of our great town deserve it.
anonymous January 04, 2012 at 01:32 PM
What a scumbag....Hartzell is an IDIOT and a crook ! I hope firemen show up at this meeting and shake this looser down. Does he live in OC? I'm assuming he dosent..if he does he's an even bigger scumbag and inconsiderate ass. If he does he clearly does not care about his own family's safety and should never have even been considered for his position and should be put out immediately...if he dosent live in town, why is he here? Why is he speaking for us? What a joke this guy is...as mentioned above most of our elected officials are like a 3 year old boy who has no idea what the fire department is besides a big red truck and a cute little dalmatian puppy ridding along. When you think of how to save money the first thing you think of is to cut out fire department? To sacrifice public saftey of the people in the town you represent? Your a scumbag ! Let me guess this idiot is one of the people behind the great idea of purchasing the $500k parking lot for $1.5 million over its value that has proven it won't show a profit for the next 28 years? That was a great way to help the citys budget wasn't it? How about we just replace all of theese over paid gov't officials that should retire and replace them with some paid high school kids that are in the student government program..seems like a more logical idea to me
Jim Houck January 04, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Congratulations to "Anonymous" for showing the courage of his convictions by using an acronym for his name !!!!
bob smith January 04, 2012 at 01:54 PM
It does appear that Ping and Hartzell have an ax to grind with the fire department. Lets just attempt to answer the simple questions and make a decisionon this matter. What are the TRUE cost savings of this proposal, they appeart o be minimal at best. How many firemen will actually retire in the next few years, they are not different from other professions where people have to work longer due to the economy. How much will the full and part-time EMT's really cost? what, if any, are the possible safety dangers/reprecussions of these changes. Again, will any possible monetary savings be worth any possible safety reductions. I think if we answer that question we can decide this matter rather quickly.
anonymous January 04, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Good post Jim...you must be a Hartzell supporter or friend..either way your obviously not someone who has some real input on the topic we are discussing.
Jim Houck January 04, 2012 at 02:08 PM
I'm actually surprised at the tide against lowering taxes & the reactionay rhetoric on this page. If the Hartzell-Ping proposal is correct, public safety won't be impacted. We'll have to wait for the workshops etc. to assess the facts about that. As for the savings, you gotta keep in mind that todays's savings will increase exponentially over the years, as we'll experience reduced legacy costs (fewer pensions, lifetime medical benefits, etc.), since we'll be replacing fireman with part-time EMT's. Really, before we refer to people as scumbags, idiots, crooks, etc., let's allow this to play out. And if people such as "Anonymous" and others feel so strongly about this, I hope they attend the workshop and voice their opinions in public.
Eric Sauder January 04, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I agree with you Bob in that we need to answer the simple questions, get the facts, and make an informed decision in this matter. I'd like to see the actual proposal discussed. There's been enough posturing and shots at each other across the room. Hopefully that's going to happen now.
Eric Sauder January 04, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Good point. If I can get off work I'll certainly be there.
vic January 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
"anonymous" must be a fireman. unlike most firemen, who collect a salary from ocean city, but don't live in ocean city, hartzell and ping both live in ocean city. with the hugh decrease in the assessed property values in ocean city, it is imperative that we investigate every avenue to conserve our tax rate. there is nothing wrong with having work shops and exchange ideas. even if this is not the right plan, maybe other ideas can come forth because the present fire dept model cannot work in the future. the only concept that the fire dept is currently presenting is one of "fear". they have to come up with something more constructive. i'm more than willing to listen.
bob smith January 05, 2012 at 03:28 PM
VIC, must be a recent reitree who moved to Ocean City and doesnt want to ever see his taxes raised. First, Ocean City taxes are the biggest bargain in New Jersey. A homeowner in Ocean City who has a property assessed at $650,000 will only save $1 - $2 per month with the Ping/Hartzell plan. The amount of the savings is so minimal it is laughable. People have to realize that there comes a point where all of the "fat" has been cut out of a department and that what is left is bare bones. If you want to save money you have to be willing to accept a lower quality of service.
Bob January 05, 2012 at 04:02 PM
"When you consider the massive tax base of a town like Ocean City, especially in light of the relatively few people who actually live here, have you ever wondered where (exactly) all that money goes? " Looking past the fact that it is an actual city with a suburban mindset from its residents, infrastructure wear and tear is much higher when you live this close to the ocean. Maintaining the boardwalk and beaches is not cheap. Housing density is incredibly high. Yes, the population goes down, but public safety's responsibilities are to protect 1) life 2) property. Yes, 2nd homeowners and tourists move away in the offseason, but their property does not. The boardwalk has already burnt down once (and took A LOT of residential property down with it)... I guess no one has looked at any of the Ocean City history books. Water rescues are performed by fireman when the life guards are off duty. EMTs cannot do that. I'm not sure where Hartzell and Ping got their salary numbers from. This isn't Philadelphia where one can go buy a house $150k or find a yearly rental for $400 a month. Has anyone looked at the cost of living in Ocean City? Here is the real disconnect, Hartzell and Ping (and most anyone who's a working person) bought in before the real estate boom. New firefighters and police officers cannot afford to buy onto the island, thus creating a disconnect. Residents don't know them and they are disconnected from the community which makes targeting them easier.
vic January 05, 2012 at 04:22 PM
i'm not retired, and i didn't just move here. what i don't understand is how we are paying firemen over $100,000 per year plus benefits (more than our school teachers who have a mean average salary of $89,400) when we only have an average of 4 fires per year. our firemen have so much time on their hands that they can go out on courtesy calls to cut locks off of bicycles and replace batteries in fire alarms (something that we should be doing ourselves). just call and they will show up. this tells me that there is a problem with the present setup. that's why we have to have discussions about how we can maintain safety in ocean city with a model that is efficient. just recently, the fire dept stopped the practice of sending out 3 firefighters on a fire truck to go grocery shopping. more of these changes have to be made.
bob smith January 05, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Really Vic, you have a problem with grocery shopping. Its people like you who only listen to what you want to lsiten to. Our fire department runs approximately 5000 calls a year with EMS and Fire. Fire departments in the 21st Century are asked to do anything and everything. A more correct title would be " emergency services" not fire department because the profession has evolved into so much more than fire. also, the department is responsible for saving a few dozen people in the past decade just with water rescue responses in the summer after the lifeguards are off duty. No one knows this because the department is humble and just goes about their duties without fanfare. Educate yourself on what the fire department really does, and how much it actually costs you before running your mouth. House assessed at $650,000 costs you $35/month in taxes. Do the math. A bargain when compared to your other monthly expenses
Bob January 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
+1 Bob. On grocery shopping, they live at the station and need to eat like anyone else. They take the firetruck and the whole crew so in case they get a call, they can respond immediately. It is about being a face in the public and providing services such as cutting bike locks. Not even a slum such as Camden has fires 24/7. By being out in the public, providing service to taxpayers and tourists, they let their presence be known. Being able to call and have them show up immediately is the reason why there shouldn't be any cuts, that's the point. Emergency services is about being proactive vs reactive. Talk to the old timers about the Villiage Theatre fire, the Purple Pussycat fire, and many other "big ones"; those can't be planned for and don't happen every day. Fortunately, because they are staffed (or were) at those levels, they only lost the structure on fire. Those fires easily could have escalated and taken down entire blocks considering structure density. How do you prepare for a storm and need the staff levels? EMTs aren't going to be driving rescue trucks. Besides high cost of living on the island, higher salaries attract talent. I don't think a salary of $35k a year (considering they're responsible for saving lives) is going to attract the talented and dedicated individuals who could make the difference in a person dying or surviving.
vic January 05, 2012 at 06:31 PM
your math is off. a property assessed at $650,00 in ocean city pays about $40 per month in taxes. but it doesn't matter if the amount is $4 or $400 per month, the question is whether or not it is properly being used. the fire dept is not the police dept. it does not have to make a public display in order for citizens to comply. the fire dept is no longer allowed to use a fire truck to go grocery shopping. perhaps the solution is to consolidate 2 of the fire houses and build a new fire house. if it were properly located, then we would still meet the 4 minute response time needed, and we could eliminate an entire company. then you could keep the present ratio of firemen to emt's. would this be a better solution? or how about taking a 3 year freeze in salary, like many of the firemen in our neighboring communities. would you agree to that? you see, bob, i do know something about fire depts. because i listen every time you open your mouth.
vic January 05, 2012 at 06:36 PM
see you at the meeting tonight.
bob smith January 05, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Do you want to spend the $4-$5 milliion for a new fire station? Lets just see how the public/council and most importantly the administration handle this situation and go from there. The firemen are paid the salary that firemen make in 2012. They are compensated fairly and provide a great sevice which is very affordable. No one disputes that the $35 - $40 month for our fire department is excessive. If you think that they are overpaid that is another argument for another day.
JM January 05, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Why is this mayor looking to screw public employees all of a sudden? The whole reason I voted against him was because he seemed to be buddy-buddy with all these guys. Now I'm hearing from family at Public Works that he has frozen everyone's salaries for 2012. This doesn't add up. Not necessarily complaining, but this is not making sense to me...
John K January 05, 2012 at 10:20 PM
All public employee unoins should be abolished Firefightersalary.org lists the average salary for state or local firefighters to be $36,000 to $59,000. Why are Ocean City firefighter salaries over $100,000 ? Ocean City police and teachers are also paid way over the average - Why? I would think it would be easy for the city to hire replacements --- non-union firefighters, police and teachers. Any firefighter that falsified their overtime for purchases not authorized in the budget should have been fired = not allowed to sue the city.
Beachy Keen January 05, 2012 at 10:31 PM
This whole things sounds like ongoing grudges and power plays between the council people, the fire department and the who's who of OC. I don't think anyone doubts that our fire department is one of the best---and yes they do come to help with smoke detectors---but I don't know why it is viewed as being adversarial to discuss ways of cutting costs all around. Home values are down, revenues are down, businesses are closing, jobs have been lost, taxes go up every year. I think that cost cutting in the areas of salaries, health benefits, and job titles should be explored without attacking the fire department and vice versa. It just doesn't look good for our town! Play nice.
Robert McKenna, MIKE January 06, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Not only are the salaries according to "John K" double for the firemen but this town has way to many overpaid ticket crazy police. The school teachers... that is a whole subject of its own. Only because so many people who own homes in Ocean City but live somewhere else in the winter, and vote at their winter residence, they do not get a say in Ocean City's need or no need for a public school. These residents do, however, get to pay taxes for a school that is not needed, but they don't get to vote to send Ocean City Children to the mainland. Instead OC buses children to the island so they can have enough students to warrant a school.
John K January 06, 2012 at 06:11 PM
The public sector "employees" have HUGE" Health Care and Retirement benefits for life. Most private sector retirees receive none of. Most private sector employers abandoned retirement benefits long ago. We private sector retired taxpayers are expected to pay for these exorbitant "benefits" to others when we don't receive them ourselves. I've heard that retirement pay for the public sector can amount to 60 or $70,000 plus healthcare for life.

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