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Firefighters, sheriff's office speak out for pension bill

March 01, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Law enforcement officers and firefighters on Tuesday threw their support behind a bill to exempt their pension income from state taxes - a bill local officers say would immediately affect about 15 retired employees of the Washington County Sheriff's Office and about 10 retired local firefighters.

"But a number are gonna be retiring, so it would help them," said Lt. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

"I think it's very worthwhile," added Capt. Bob Leatherman of the sheriff's office. For the officers contemplating retirement, "this definitely could be a benefit."

Detective Chris Weaver also traveled to Annapolis to support the bill at the request of Sheriff Charles Mades.

The state provides a limited pension exemption for retirees who are at least 65 or who are disabled, according to Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery. The "Hometown Heroes Act of 2006" would lower the age requirement to 50. Retirees could deduct their pensions up to $21,500.

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"The practical application is - many can't afford to live in the communities in which they work," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "This gives them the opportunity to stay in the state."

What the bill does not do is offer tax breaks while they're still working. Hixson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said there are no statewide bills to give tax breaks to emergency personnel. Some counties, such as Prince George's, are seeking local bills to give them tax breaks, said Del. Carolyn Howard, D-Prince George's.

The hope, Busch said, is that the bill will give the officers and firefighters an incentive to stay in Maryland.

Wilkinson said the Washington County Sheriff's Office has workers commuting from West Virginia and Pennsylvania because they can't afford to live in Washington County.

Bob Maurer, representing Local 1605 of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Hagerstown, said passage of the bill would be a boost for firefighters. He thanked Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, for signing on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee heard the bill Tuesday afternoon. No opposition was presented during the hearing.

House Bill 1424

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