Bill would give Washington Co. new fiscal authority over fire, rescue group

Committee hears tip-jar measure

March 13, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would give Washington County new fiscal authority over the county’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association was presented in Annapolis on Tuesday without discussion.

The bill would give the Washington County Board of Commissioners the power to force the association to submit its proposed budget to the county each year. The association would not receive its share of tip-jar gaming money unless the commissioners approve the budget.

The House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday also heard a second county bill related to tip jars.

That bill would change the definition of an amusement device, to include games activated by other items of value, such as a swipe card, instead of just coins and tokens. It would also change the accounting of a $2 sticker fee charged for each tip jar.

The county increased the fee from $1.25 to $2 last year to cover the county’s administrative costs.

The Washington County Restaurant & Beverage Association asked this year if the $2 fee on each tip jar could be subtracted from gross profits.

The poor economy, a smoking ban, an increase in the sales tax on alcohol, and rising gasoline and food prices have hurt the alcohol beverage industry, association President Louis L. Thomas wrote in a July letter.

The county’s commissioners and administrator opposed the sticker-fee change, arguing that it would cut into tip-jar proceeds distributed to local nonprofit organizations. County officials estimate that the change would chop $24,000 from the tip-jar revenue given to nonprofit groups.

Still, the county delegation voted unanimously in January to go ahead with the change.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the delegation chairman, acknowledged county officials’ objections on Tuesday when presenting both bills.

“We’re already talked to the chairman of the subcommittee about working that out,” Serafini said.

Assistant Washington County Attorney Kirk C. Downey and James B. Hovis, the director of the county Office of Community Grant Management, testified in favor of both bills, except for the section on the $2 stickers.

Downey said the $24,000 loss in tip-jar proceeds is more significant than the roughly $150 that would be saved under the new tip-jar accounting procedure.

Dale Hill, the president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, spoke in favor of the budget oversight bill, as did Treasurer Rick Blair and past President Glenn Fishack.

No one on the committee commented on either bill. Legislators tend to defer to the sponsors on local bills that affect only one area.

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