Takoma Park, the city with the split identity, is once again stuck in a tug-of-war between Montgomery County and Prince George's County -- this time over the issue of who pays for its fire protection.
Takoma Park Mayor Sammie Abbott, who does not want to levy a city tax to pay for fire service, urged the Prince George's County Council yesterday to "take on Montgomery" in order to resolve the disagreement.
Montgomery County officials have said they will stop providing fire service to the Prince George's part of Takoma Park from the volunteer fire department located in and funded by Montgomery County unless Prince George's chips in $180,000 by July 1 to defray the cost of such service.
Prince George's officials have said they will not pay.
Abbott told the Prince George's council that his city is caught in the middle and has become "the whipping boy of this situation."
"We're here imploring the council to take on Montgomery," he said.
"They're threatening the city of Takoma Park," charged Prince George's Council member Frank Casula.
Montgomery County Council President Michael L. Gudis later responded that the council intended its funding request only "as an alternative." After being told of Abbott's statement, he accused the volatile Takoma Park mayor of "egging . . . on" the Prince George's council.
Montgomery County deputy administrative officer Robert Kendal said that if Prince George's does not come forward with the money, Takoma Park could assess a tax to pay for the fire service.
Takoma Park Fire Chief Roger McGary said that Fire Station No. 2, whose firefighters respond to emergencies in the Prince George's part of the city, is in Montgomery about two blocks from the county line. McGary said that about 32 percent of the calls the station responds to are in Prince George's.
Montgomery County took over the operation of the Takoma Park fire station from the city in 1974, and Prince George's assumed part of the cost of its operation. But in 1978, Prince George's stopped paying, and its officials argued that other reciprocal arrangements along the county line, such as in Calverton and Hillendale, are not paid for but treated as fair exchange of services.
Both sides say that even if the Takoma Park fire station limits its primary service to the Montgomery side of the county line, fire response times will decrease only minimally.
But Prince George's council members, who seemed sympathetic to Abbott's request, said they want to talk with their counterparts in Montgomery about it at a scheduled May 16 meeting that comes one day after the Montgomery council is scheduled to give final approval to the county's proposed budget.
In other business, the Prince George's County Council sent a strongly worded letter yesterday to the county Board of Education that said a court-appointed panel's desegregation proposal to close 32 schools and increase the time students spend on buses would have "a very real, negative impact."
A letter to school board members drafted by busing foe Sue V. Mills stated that "busing to balance schools racially doesn't work" and it endorsed consideration of Superintendent John Murphy's proposal to create magnet schools as a way of achieving racial balance.