Republican Greg Fox's goal was clear yesterday as the new Howard County Council held its first budget review - find a way to eliminate an increase in the fire property tax proposed by County Executive Ken Ulman.Is it fair that different parts of the county pay different fire tax rates? Sure, the lack of public water out west can be a limiting factor when fighting a fire, but is that really sufficient justification for them to pay less, especially when those of us in the east already pay separately for water?
"Howard County doesn't have to pay the fire tax" increase, Fox said after the session.
Howard's fire tax is a separate property tax of 10.55 cents per $100 of assessed value for western county residents not served by public water lines, and 12.55 cents for eastern county residents who have piped water and a higher level of service. The proposed increase would create one countywide rate of 13.55 cents.
Ulman said the projects the money would help pay for should reduce fire insurance rates for western county residents, compensating for the tax increase. The higher tax rates should produce $4.4 million, budget officials said, though an additional $3.3 million in surplus fire tax funds are included in the capital budget for Fire Department projects.
Until now, all revenue from the tax have been used to pay fire department operating costs and not for capital projects such as new firetrucks or stations.
Ulman included $7.7 million in his capital proposal for fire service to pay for things including a $1 million ladder truck, several new tankers, $1.7 million for the first stage of a program to begin burying 30,000-gallon water tanks throughout the western county and $2.1 million to help pay for new or enlarged fire stations.
I'll abstain from official comment on this one and instead leave it up to the local fire department experts to fill in the blanks.