Fire tax idea gains support

December 04, 1996


Staff Writer

Washington County Commissioner James R. Wade said Tuesday he believes a fire tax would be a fair way to fund fire and rescue companies since only a minority of residents make donations toward the emergency protection.

The County Commissioners met Tuesday with Fire and Rescue Coordinator Roger "Jerry" Reed and Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Jay Grimes during the commissioners' regular weekly meeting.

Grimes said he is personally against the county starting a fire tax, but as the association's president he said he is in favor of a countywide tax to fund fire and ambulance companies.


The issue was raised last month by Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who said a fire tax should be started for the Halfway area to help fund the fire company.

The fire tax idea was prompted by Halfway announcing plans it was attempting to purchase the former Moose lodge as a way to make more money for its operations.

Grimes said he worried the county would want too much control over the fire companies.

His fire company has about $5 million in equipment and property. He said the county taking over the fire companies would be like a person taking over a business after making only a small investment.

Wade said he thinks a compromise could be worked out between the county and the fire companies that would enable fire companies to remain independent, but the county would have the necessary financial accountability to make sure the taxpayers' money was being spent properly.

"If we can work out the accountability issues I think we could have a great program," Wade said.

Wade said he thinks a fire tax could raise more money for the fire and rescue companies, which mostly rely on raising their own funds from bingo, tip jars, hosting carnivals, and donation appeals.

Grimes said about 32 percent of the residents contribute money to the Williamsport fire company.

The other 68 percent and most of the businesses do not contribute, he said.

Wade said that a fire tax would be fair because everyone would pay the same amount instead of just a few making donations to fund the protection of the entire community.

Grimes said he does not think residents would favor a new tax.

Wade said he believes those who donate to the fire companies already will not oppose a fire tax because they give to the fire companies anyway. He said the only ones who will complain are residents who "are freeloading" by not giving to their fire and rescue companies.

Wade said that it may cost commissioners votes at the next election to create a fire tax, but they have to look at what is best for the community, not for themselves.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said that the fire and rescue issues will be a priority on the commissioners' agenda for next year.

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