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CUMBERLAND — Allegany County officials have received a budget increase request from county emergency medical services of $1.1 million for 2020, bringing the total price tag for the service to $3.9 million.

Emergency medical service operations, once bursting at the seams with volunteers, used to be a zero expense item on the county budget list.

However, the cost of the service has skyrocketed in just three years, forcing the Allegany County Board of Commissioners to make difficult decisions.

Jake Shade, commission president, summarized the situation at Thursday's budget workshop.

"The EMS was a zero dollar expense," said Shade, "then it went to $1.1 million, then $2.8 million and now this. To put it in perspective (the EMS budget) is more than we spend on the state attorney's office, the airport and election office and tax office combined. We will run ourself out of business if we try to chase the dog here."

The commissioners are currently developing a budget for fiscal year 2020. They have been inundated with requests for budget increases from the agencies and organizations they typically fund annually.

"This is the toughest budget I've seen in the five years I've been here," said Shade at Thursday's county meeting.

From the agencies and organizations the county funds each year, including EMS, the county has received $4.1 million in funding requests over and above the amounts already earmarked for those entities. Including the increase requests, the county has received $94.9 million in funding requests over projected revenues of $90.8 million, giving the county has a shortfall of $4.1 million.

County officials held a budget workshop Thursday. They expressed a desire to either flat fund, or possibly allow 1% increases, for the agencies to avert the shortfall in the county's budget. 

The cost of EMS took a steep increase in 2017 when the county was forced to take over the struggling Frostburg EMS operation.

"As you know EMS has grown very quickly on us," said Jason Bennett, county finance director. "Mostly because of the lack of volunteers to provide the service. We've seen it grow from under a million to nearly $4 million. It's a necessary service, but you have to find a way to get the expense under control."

Bennett said he has spoken to EMS staff and they have agreed to look for ways to reduce the expenses internally. Bennett said he suggested cutting the increase request by 15%.

Commissioner Creade Brodie Jr. suggested cutting the increased expense by 20%. "It can be done; it's going to have to be done," he said.

The commissioners agreed to explore a 20% cut to the request which would reduce the $1.1 million request by $780,000, dropping the increase to $320,000.

"We've got to work on getting EMS costs under control," said Shade. "We need to work with Cumberland to see if we can generate some savings with them."

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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