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Tax credit for spouses of fallen first responders

July 21, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners passed an ordinance Tuesday that establishes a property tax credit for the spouses of fallen law enforcement officers and rescue workers.

The credit will be available to the spouses of law enforcement or correctional officers who die as a result of, or in the course of, their employment. It also will apply to the spouse of anyone who dies while in the active service of a fire, rescue or emergency medical service, unless the death was the result of the individual's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

The credit will pay for the county portion of the property taxes imposed, from the current fiscal year forward, on the spouse's home, as long as the spouse does not remarry. The home must have been owned by the fallen officer or rescue worker at the time of his or her death or have been purchased by the spouse under certain circumstances.

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Spouses will be eligible even if the officer or rescue worker's death occurred before the ordinance was passed, though no refunds will be granted for taxes paid before the current fiscal year, the ordinance says.

The ordinance was developed after the county received calls from citizens who pointed out that state legislation allows counties to offer such a credit and asked why Washington County didn't offer one, assistant county attorney Andrew F. Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said 12 of Maryland's 23 counties and the City of Baltimore offer similar credits.

Neither Wilkinson nor County Treasurer Todd Hershey had an estimate of how much revenue the county would lose because of the credits.

A fiscal and policy note attached to the enabling legislation when it was passed in 2008 said the average residential property taxes paid to Washington County was $1,772, Wilkinson said.

Hershey said if he had to guess, he imagined there were five to 10 people who would qualify for the credit now.

Losing tax revenue from even 10 properties would be felt in these tight financial times, Hershey said, but the loss is not too substantial to take.

"I think we can absorb this credit for these people who gave their lives for their community," Hershey said.

Applications for the tax credit will be available from the county treasurer's office at 35 W. Washington St., Suite 102, he said.

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