Montgomery Council Committee Votes to Retain County’s Fire and Rescue Commission
Public Safety Committee, In Discussion of Bill 38-08,
Supports Eliminating Stipends for Commissioners
ROCKVILLE, Md., March 13, 2009—The Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee on March 12 voted to recommend that the full Council not pass proposed Bill 38-08 that would have abolished the County’s Fire and Rescue Commission. The committee did recommend phasing out all stipends paid to members as members’ terms end.
The Public Safety Committee voted 2-1 to recommend retaining the seven-member commission. Committee Chair Phil Andrews, the Council president, and Council Vice President Roger Berliner voted to recommend retaining the commission. Councilmember Marc Elrich voted to recommend support of Bill 38-08, which would abolish the current commission. He offered amendments that would create a new commission without stipends, but still with policy approval authority.
The bill’s chief sponsor is Councilmember George Leventhal. The bill is opposed by the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and is supported by the County’s Career Fire Fighters Association.
The law governing the commission allows it to disapprove Fire and Rescue Service regulations and policies proposed by the Fire Chief. It also has the authority to decide certain personnel appeals filed by volunteer firefighters.
Councilmembers Andrews and Berliner wanted the commission and its functions to remain unchanged, but did not support continuation of stipends for the commissioners. Instead, they supported taking action in the operating budget to phase out the commissioner’s stipends as each commissioner’s term ends. Several commissioners indicated in an earlier public hearing that they would be willing to serve on the commission without compensation. At the March 12 Public Safety meeting, Councilmembers Andrews and Berliner also asked that commissioners formally notify the Council that they will not accept compensation until the compensation can be phased out as new terms begin.
Councilmember Elrich supported amendments to the bill that would abolish the Commission and reconstitute it without compensation and without its quasi-judicial appeals function, but with its quasi-legislative function to approve or disapprove policies and regulations.
Under the Maryland Constitution, unless their functions are modified, any change in Commissioners’ stipends or other compensation cannot take effect until each commissioner begins a new term. However, any modification could be applied to each commissioner appointed or reappointed after the modification to the commission takes effect. On the current commission, two members’ terms expire on July 31, 2009, two on July 31, 2010, and three on July 31, 2011. According to the Public Safety Committee’s recommendation, the entire commission membership would serve without a stipend in about two years.
“The Fire and Rescue Commission has more than just an advisory role—it plays an important part in decisions made about Fire and Rescue service in Montgomery County, enabling the Volunteer Service, the Career Service and the public to each have a significant impact on Fire and Rescue policy,” said Council President Andrews. “The Public Safety Committee was clear in its intent to maintain the commission’s function, but to phase out stipends for commission members.”