Carroll officials consider levying fire tax on residents

Fee would help foot bill for emergency services

February 23, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners thought they had an equitable solution to a dilemma in the fast-growing county.

They believed a tax on real estate transactions would hit the fewest Carroll residents while paying for an increased demand on government services brought on by growth.

But when the state delegation rejected their proposal last month, the commissioners were left empty-handed.

Now the three Carroll officials are researching options to pay for schools and for police, fire and emergency services. One is to impose a fire tax on residents, an alternative suggested by state Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Republican who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties.

During an annual meeting Friday with Frederick County and Mount Airy officials, the Carroll commissioners asked their counterparts in the neighboring county about a fire tax that is assessed on Frederick County residents to help pay for fire and emergency medical services.

"It may be an alternative we'll have to look at in the future," Carroll County Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said.

Jones said the county is committed to offering round-the-clock ambulance service in the county. The county's volunteer firefighters want more fire companies to offer overnight ambulance service and increase the number of paid fire engine drivers, Jones said.

"We're building houses faster than we have [firefighter] volunteers," he said.

For the fiscal year ending in June, the county allocated $1.9 million to the county's volunteer firefighters for emergency medical services.

But continued funding for additional emergency services remains uncertain.

The county's commitment to pay for round-the-clock ambulance services was contingent on revenue from the transfer tax or some other funding source, county Chief of Staff Steven D. Powell said after the meeting.

How to continue to pay for emergency medical services along with more police officers and schools will be debated during the fiscal 2005 budget process this spring, Powell said.

In Frederick County, areas that contribute to the fire tax are divided into two districts: Residents in "urban" areas pay 13 cents per $100 of their property assessments, while those in "suburban" areas pay 6.5 cents per $100, said Frederick Commissioner Jan H. Gardner.

Two areas in Frederick County are not assessed a fire tax because the fire companies in those area are run entirely by volunteers.

"Without those two funding sources, we'd be hard-pressed to provide those services," said Frederick Commissioner John R. Lovell Jr.

In order to impose a similar tax in Carroll County, the commissioners would need permission from the General Assembly, as they would for a transfer tax.

The all-Republican Carroll delegation said it would reconsider the proposal for a transfer tax next year. Powell said the county hasn't decided whether to make the same request again next year.

Carroll Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said after the meeting that the fire tax would be a "contradiction to what we wanted to do."

"It would hit every family, like seniors, people who don't have a lot of money and young families," Gouge said.

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