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Fire and rescue group opposes gambling law changes

February 19, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association fears proposed changes to the county's gambling law will hurt private fund-raising efforts of its members.

"Our concern is the public perceives we get megabucks from the gaming commission. ... This only sends the message to citizens that they don't need to contribute," association President Jay Grimes said Saturday.

But two of the county's state delegates said Saturday the associations' concerns will not deter them.

The proposed law would increase the percentage of money from tip jar profits going to fire and rescue companies. Currently, the companies split 40 percent of the tip jar profits distributed by the Washington County Gaming Commission. The other 60 percent goes to nonprofit groups.

Under the proposed bill, which the delegates endorsed last week, the fire and rescue companies and the nonprofits would split the tip jar money evenly. The additional money going to the fire and rescue companies would be offset by an equal reduction in the amount of money they receive from the County Commissioners.

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The association, which represents 27 fire and rescue companies in the county, voted Thursday to oppose the changes to the gambling law. Grimes said all of the 23 emergency service companies represented at the meeting opposed the legislation.

Grimes said the association will lobby against the bill in Annapolis.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said, "I'm sorry they feel there's a perception issue out there. ... But I'm not going to allow a perception issue to get in the way of what we should do for fire and rescue and the sewer debt."

The proposed legislation is one of three bills crafted by the delegates as part of a plan to provide additional money to pay down the county's $52.3 million water and sewer debt and provide money for special projects such as a new minor league baseball stadium in Hagerstown.

Shank said in the current fiscal year the fire and rescue companies split $1.8 million from the County Commissioners and about $970,000 from the gaming commission.

Grimes did not know how much all the companies raise in private contributions annually. He said the private contributions for each company vary greatly. Some companies raise $5,000, while others raise more than $60,000 in a year, he said.

Grimes said there is also some concern that the changes could cost the fire and rescue companies in the future if tip jar revenues don't live up to expectations.

But Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the proposed law would not affect the amount of money going to the fire companies.

"It simply changes the stream, where their money comes from," McKee said. "They will not get one penny less."

McKee said even if the revenues from tip jars goes down, the fire companies won't be hurt financially because the County Commissioners would pick up the difference.

"If indeed the gambling drops and they get $150,000 and not $250,000, then the county would give less to debt reduction," McKee said.

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