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County fire tax being proposed again

October 27, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A Maryland state delegate is reviving an idea that has come and gone for years - a Washington County fire tax.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said Wednesday that he'll propose that the county's state delegation introduce a fire-tax bill for the next legislative session. If it passes, the Washington County Commissioners could impose a fire tax.

Glenn Fuscsick, the president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said a fire fee, as he prefers to call it, is long overdue.

He said volunteers can't focus on training because they have to raise money - with low payoffs. The Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., to which Fuscsick belongs, gets contributions from 22 percent of the residences it covers and 6 percent of the businesses, he said.

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"It's horrible," he said. "It's absolutely horrible."

In 2003, the Fire & Rescue Association passed a resolution supporting a fire fee, Fuscsick said. He couldn't remember the vote, but said it wasn't unanimous.

This week, McKee provided letters favoring a tax from fire officials in Williamsport and Halfway, which he represents.

Talk of a fire tax in Washington County goes back, by some accounts, about 20 years.

McKee said he's raising the issue again now because it should be an issue in the current Washington County Commissioners race.

"If the delegation passed this but three of five commissioners are against it, it won't happen," he said. "It needs to be raised with the candidates."

The general election is Nov. 7. Ten candidates are running for five open commissioner seats.

McKee said he didn't introduce the topic sooner because it took the General Assembly library about a month to gather information for him. He received it last week.

He also said he was waiting for other lawmakers who represent Washington County - particularly Del. Christopher B. Shank and Sen. Donald F. Munson - to support a fire tax.

"I'm getting cooperation from other delegation members that the time is right," McKee said.

McKee, Shank and Munson - all Republicans - are running unopposed for re-election. The makeup of the rest of the county's delegation will be decided in the election.

Actually, in separate interviews, Shank and Munson said they aren't taking a position on a fire tax yet.

Before deciding, "I want to see a bill," Munson said.

"I'd want to hear more details ...," Shank echoed. "I think it's premature to decide what the delegation is going to do .... The process has got to flow from the county commissioners to the delegation," he said.

Both said the current fire and rescue system needs to be changed.

"Many individuals and many companies do not pay for the fire service that they get in Washington County," Munson said. "Based on those facts, something needs to be done."

Shank agreed, but said there are many unanswered questions, such as how much fire and rescue support there is for a fire tax. He said a tax should be broached "very cautiously."

McKee said that specifics, such how much the tax would be and how to assess it, haven't been discussed.

Fuscsick said he's part of a county task force that's met since August to talk about a fire fee. The task force is expected to have a report by February or March, he said.

The Fire & Rescue Association currently gets half of the county's tip jar proceeds.

If the fire tax passes, McKee said, tip jar money for the association could be diverted to charitable organizations that need help.

However, Fuscsick said he strongly opposes changing the tip-jar distribution formula.

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