Most on Council support single fire district and tax

February 23, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

A majority of the County Council wants the county executive to seek state legislation this year allowing the county to establish one fire district with a single fire tax.

Council members also would like state legislation to allow the county to designate the annual fire assessment levied on property owners as an actual tax so that it can be deducted from income taxes.

During a work session last night, most council members said they opposed County Executive Charles I. Ecker's bill to create two fire districts with two separate tax rates.

The council also learned during the work session from Budget Administrator Raymond Wacks that Mr. Ecker is willing to drop a proposal that would put new financial reporting requirements on the county's volunteer fire companies. The proposal has been criticized by some volunteer fire officials.

During the work session, the council voted, 4-1, in favor of establishing the single fire district -- a move that would eliminate the county's current system of six districts, each with its own tax rate.

The straw vote taken at the meeting is not binding.

Council member Charles C. Feaga, District 5, was the lone opponent of the single fire district proposal.

"This will erode away the incentive to volunteer as a firefighter," he said. "If you want to feed the fire and destroy the volunteer fire system, go right ahead."

But Council member Darrel Drown, District 2, disagreed. "This won't decrease or diminish the role of the volunteer firefighters, nor does it say we don't appreciate their good work," he said.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, District 1, who proposed the single tax district, argued that a single fire tax rate seemed the only system that would be equitable to property owners and fire companies because of statistics which show most companies respond to emergencies outside their own districts.

To establish a single fire district, the county needs General Assembly approval.

Mr. Wacks said a single fire tax rate for the county probably would be about 22 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Currently, rates among the six districts range between 15 cents and 23 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Mr. Wacks told the council that members of the county's legislative delegation have said informally that they might consider introducing the fire district and tax legislation during the current General Assembly session.

He said he would let Mr. Ecker know that the council wants him to make a formal request for the legislation soon.

If the legislative delegation is unwilling or unable to draft the bill, then a majority of the council prefers establishing two fire districts with a single tax rate this year as an interim measure until a single district can be pursued in next year's General Assembly.

In January, Mr. Ecker introduced two companion bills concerning funding of the county's fire companies, some of which are volunteer and some of which are paid.

One bill would eliminate the county's six fire districts, which have six different tax rates.

At that time, Mr. Ecker said he wanted to create two fire districts, an urban and a rural district, each with its own fire tax rate. He argued the system would be more equitable because most fire companies respond to emergencies in other districts.

Also, he said, unless rates are changed, one district's tax rate will have to be increased to 35 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay the annual operating and bond debt costs of a new station in Scaggsville.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.