Commissioners Table ARPA Requests

SNOW HILL – County officials want more information before approving how local fire companies plan to spend their federal relief funds.

The Worcester County Commissioners last week tabled a decision regarding spending plans for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds submitted by various local fire companies. Several commissioners said they felt the spending should be directed toward EMS needs rather than fire purchases.

“I need more clarity,” Commissioner Caryn Abbott said.

Last summer, the commissioners allocated $1.9 million of the county’s ARPA funding to go toward one-time capital or equipment needs of local fire and EMS companies. Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said fire company representatives had made it clear that there were times the county’s EMS response was fragile.

“In their response time, where seconds count, they’ve notified us they’re lacking capacity to respond in certain instances,” he said.

As a result, the county provided additional funding for staffing during the last budget cycle and has had staff work with community organizations regarding events and their impact on the fire and EMS service. Events such as the Seagull Century, for example, that result in higher calls for service, are now being asked to help pay for upstaffing.

Young said that because ARPA funding was one-time funding fire companies had been advised to use the money for one-time purchases such as equipment.

“We asked our volunteer companies to determine its best use to fix the fragile system—as they are our subject matter experts—and bring those items forward for approval,” he said.

Staff presented the commissioners with eight requests during last week’s meeting.

“I worked with the fire companies to ensure they were following the county’s financial rules and guidelines,” Procurement Officer Nicholas Rice said.

While Commissioner Joe Mitrecic made a motion to approve the requests, the motion failed with a 3-4 vote. Commissioner Chip Bertino, who along with Commissioners Eric Fiori, Caryn Abbott and Jim Bunting was opposed, said he didn’t believe the majority of the proposed purchases would address EMS needs. He said one of the requests was for services at the fire station while another fire company wanted to use the funding toward a new fire engine. He said Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers had told the commissioners previously the system was one call away from catastrophe.

“We wanted to use the ARPA money to fix that,” he said. “I don’t think all of these requests fit those categories.”

A motion to table consideration of the requests passed with a 6-1 vote, with Mitrecic opposed.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.