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Commissioners discuss fire tax authority

October 08, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The majority of the Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday it was too early to ask local legislators for the authority to pass a fire tax, but they didn't rule out future discussions on the issue.

Three of the four County Commissioners at a meeting told Jason Baer, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, that they would like a task force to be formed to iron out details of a possible tax and make recommendations on how a tax would best work in the county.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said that process would take awhile and probably would not be concluded by the time the commissioners present their legislative agenda to the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

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Snook said the county's legislative agenda would be drafted in the next 30 days.

Baer had requested that the commissioners ask for the enabling legislation for a fire tax before a task force is created.

He has said additional money is needed for fire and rescue companies to make up for stagnant fund-raising contributions and increased operational costs, among other factors.

Snook said the delegation would tell the commissioners "to go fly a kite" if they requested the enabling legislation before a tax plan was established. He said the legislators probably would ask many questions that the commissioners could not answer without a plan in place.

"The association has done a good job ... but I don't think we can rush the issue and go to the delegation," Snook said.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he thought it would be premature to ask for the legislation in the near future, and that he has been told by firefighters that not all companies would support a fire tax.

He said companies would lose their autonomy because a tax would make them more accountable to the commissioners and the public.

"I realize that this proposal has the potential to totally change fire services in Washington County," Wivell said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval, however, said he didn't see a problem with asking for the legislation before a complete plan is worked out. Just because the commissioners ask for the authority to enact a tax doesn't mean they necessarily would endorse one, he said.

He said he didn't think the county was ready to support a tax.

"I'm OK with going for authority," Kercheval said. "I'm not asking for a tax."

Commissioner John C. Munson said he wasn't ready to support a tax.

"I would have to be convinced that the public in Washington County wants this," Munson said.

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