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Under proposed bill, fire and rescue association budget must get county's OK

Delegation votes to submit legislation this session

February 01, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Final details apparently have been ironed out in a bill that would provide new scrutiny of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Washington County’s legislative delegation voted Wednesday to file the bill during this year’s legislative session.

Under the bill, the association would submit a budget for the Washington County Board of Commissioners to approve. If the association doesn’t submit a budget or the commissioners don’t approve the budget, the association would not get its share of proceeds from tip-jar gaming until any problems are fixed.

It was the delegation’s third straight week of discussion in Annapolis about the proposed bill, which adds a new level of financial oversight.

A series of Herald-Mail stories raised questions about how the association uses and distributes local tip-jar money and why it had built up a reserve of more than $500,000 in various accounts.

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The association agreed to the new requirement after being assured it wouldn’t apply to individual volunteer fire and rescue companies under the association’s umbrella.

The county commissioners also agreed to an early version of the bill, before the budget-approval provision was added.

But, “if they’re for it, I’m ready to go,” Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said during Wednesday’s delegation meeting in Annapolis, referring to the association’s consent to all of the provisions in the proposed bill.

The association receives half of tip-jar gaming proceeds in the county. The other half is divided among local nonprofit groups through a detailed application process.

The delegation did not have the final wording of the bill on Wednesday, but voted to file it, contingent on various stake-holders approving the finished proposal.

The bill would become law if the full General Assembly approves it, and the governor signs it into law.

Generally, under “legislative courtesy,” lawmakers from other parts of the state defer to the wishes of legislators on bills that only affect the bill sponsors’ area.

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