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Local delegates vote to hike car registration fee

March 23, 2001

Local delegates vote to hike car registration fee



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - All six Washington County delegates voted Friday to increase Maryland's car registration fee from $70 to $76.

The estimated $13 million raised is intended to prop up the state's financially ailing emergency services network and preserve grants to fire and rescue companies.

Republicans in the delegation said raising a fee was a tough but necessary vote.

"I felt we really did not have any choice," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The problem is a $7.2 million deficit looming in the fund that pays for the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Maryland State Police emergency helicopters, grants to local fire companies and a low-interest revolving loan fund for fire and rescue companies.

Without the increase, one of the state's helicopters will be grounded.

More than 200 accident victims were airlifted from accidents in the county last year.

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Washington County fire and rescue companies could lose $63,000. The county received $225,000 from the state last year.

"I can't look those volunteers in the eye. I can't say to them this money needs to be cut. It's just not fair to them," Shank said.

Even Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, who prides himself on his no-tax and no-fee record, voted in favor of the increase.

"I think it could be viewed as an investment vital to emergency medicine," said Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he doesn't think anyone will balk at paying an extra $3 a year to ensure there will be people there to help them in an emergency.

"I think most people would view this as an extremely important service," Donoghue said.

Earlier this session, Washington County lawmakers were backing an alternative way to raise money for emergency services - a $20 surcharge on speeding tickets.

That idea was rejected by legislative leaders because it wouldn't provide a steady stream of funding and could be reduced by a judge.

One lawmaker who voted against the fee increase said Gov. Parris Glendening should have put the extra money in his budget.

"In this budget time, I feel the governor turned his back on public safety in this state," said Del. David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick/Carroll.

The fee increase passed the Maryland House of Delegates 112-25 and is now headed for the Senate. If passed there, it would go into effect July 1.

As part of the bill, the state will study state funding of regional trauma centers, including Washington County Hospital, which don't receive state money now.

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