Raffle law changes sought

Volunteer fire companies say Md. limit on prizes hampers fund raising

`We need to raise money ourselves'

Firefighter group asking legislators to amend rule

October 29, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll volunteer fire company is pushing for a change in the law that would give it and other volunteer fire departments in the county more chances to sell raffle tickets and bolster their budgets.

Officials in the Gamber and Community Volunteer Fire Company propose amending a provision in state law that limits Carroll fire departments to holding one raffle per year with a prize worth $2,500 or more, or five raffles with prizes worth less than $2,500.

Because raffles and other fund-raisers are crucial to the survival of volunteer fire companies and to the ability to buy much-needed equipment, the departments should not be restricted to one large raffle a year, said Jeannie Green, a volunteer with the 135-member Gamber organization who is working on a proposal to present to the county's General Assembly delegation.

State law governs fund-raising "gaming" activities, such as bingos, prize wheels and raffles, conducted by charitable, religious, veterans and civic organizations, volunteer fire companies and other groups.

Green and other Gamber volunteers will meet with members of the county legislative delegation, starting with Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, who is open to their concerns.

"That law is probably a little outdated and obsolete," said Haines, leader of Carroll's Annapolis delegation. "If the fire companies are that limited, they probably need relief."

He said he would wait to hear whether the county commissioners support the idea before taking action.

Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said the commissioners have not been approached about the idea but would be willing to listen to proposals.

The Gamber department thinks that the public will contribute more money if given the opportunity, Green said.

"We definitely want to get the limit changed so we can do more raffles throughout the year," said Gamber company spokesman Clay Myers. "It's a proven source of fund raising."

Though the county's budget includes $6.5 million for the county's 14 fire companies, the departments said that extra money from raffle ticket sales is needed to buy updated equipment and for building additions.

The companies need the money, fire officials say, to keep up with the growth in population and increased demands for emergency services.

The Gamber company's share of the county's fire budget is about $370,000, said Myers. Like the other county fire departments, Gamber did not receive all the money it requested.

"The county keeps cutting our budget so we feel the need to raise money ourselves," Green said. "We can't do it with permit restrictions."

On average, she said, the Gamber fire department makes about $10,000 a year from the raffle held at the annual six-day summer carnival.

This year, the department raffled off an anniversary edition Harley-Davidson motorcycle worth $17,000. The raffle was a success and brought in $9,000 in profit, she said.

In addition to raffles, other sources of fund raising for fire companies include basket bingos, carnivals, bull-and-oyster roasts and crab feasts, Green said.

Gamber took the idea to the meeting last month of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which strongly endorsed removing the limit on the number of major raffles. Association leaders said that they would sign any proposal or letter that Gamber develops.

Sun news researcher Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

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