Ecker proposes higher fire taxes 2 districts would replace the current 6

January 27, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Many Howard County residents will pay more in fire taxes next year under a bill County Executive Charles I. Ecker sent to the County Council this week.

The bill would substitute two fire districts and two sets of fire taxes for the six fire districts and six sets of fire taxes the county has now.

"The six districts were drawn at a time when it made sense," Mr. Ecker said. In those days, the companies were mostly volunteer. The idea was for each district to pay for its fire service out of the fire tax.

Today, some fire companies spend more time fighting fires and responding to emergencies outside their districts than they do inside, Mr. Ecker said. Since individual district fire taxes range from a low of 15 cents to a high of 23 cents per $100 of assessed value, some people could be paying a very low rate for very high service, he said.

Although Mr. Ecker has not yet proposed specific rates for the two new districts, he wants all residents to pay a tax equal to the service they are getting. People in the urban district -- the part of the county that roughly approximates the county's planned water and sewer area -- would pay one rate; people in the rural district would pay another.

The reason for the proposal, said county Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks, was to cover the costs of a new fire station at U.S. 29 and Route 216. If the change is not made, some people will pay a lot more, he said. "The urban-rural district is to make the tax more equitable."

In places such as Elkridge, which have had low fire taxes, that

could mean an increase of 7 cents or more, said Lt. David Proffitt, a volunteer firefighter and member of the commission that worked on the legislative proposal.

The fact that he worked on the commission does not mean that he supports the proposal, however. "What extra are the citizens going to get out of this money?" he asked.

Lieutenant Proffitt is also concerned about a part of the legislation calling for the restructuring of the way the county funds volunteer companies. The bill requires each company to request a grant from the county to cover operating and capital expenses. The county executive would decide whether to fund all or part of the grant and include the grant in the budget he presents the council.

Each volunteer corporation would be audited and required to maintain records in a form acceptable to the county. The executive could require some volunteer financial officers to be bonded.

The bill is one of several pieces of major legislation the executive will put before the council at its legislative session on Monday.

Mr. Ecker is also calling for a government reorganization which would return the agricultural land preservation program to the department of planning and zoning, transfer central services to general services, move animal control to the police department, and put employment and training under the control of the county administrator.

Employment and training and the agricultural land preservation program had been placed in the economic development department. Mr. Ecker hopes economic development will become a private authority later this year. He wanted employment and training and the land preservation program to remain in county government, however.

Mr. Ecker said he wants to shift animal control from public works to the Police Department because he thinks its is "a more appropriate place" because of the agency's enforcement function.

"I do not want the animal control people to become police officers," however, Mr. Ecker said. "I can't say that strongly enough. Their primary function is the welfare and protection of animals."

Mr. Ecker said he wants to transfer Central Services, which deals with things such as printing and mailing, to General Services, a department that serves all other branches of county government.

The legislation will be aired before the council on Monday. The council will conduct a public hearing on it Feb. 16 and vote on it March 1.

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