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Town recommends tax increase

Chris Patterson

The Frederick Board of County Commissioners will meet today to consider creating a fire tax district in the only area left in Frederick County without one.

The Emmitsburg area, including a small pocket in Sabillasville, does not currently charge residents a fire tax to pay for emergency personnel, but given recent service failures by Emmitsburg Ambulance Company, it may be necessary to create one.

Service failure rates at the company are averaging close to 33 percent, prompting the company to ask for emergency help from county commissioners.

The county requires that emergency vehicles must leave the company within eight minutes of a call for help, and that has not happened at least 33 percent of the time during the first seven months of this year.

At the hearing Monday, it was announced that three calls that day alone went unanswered. Adding paid staff to the now all-volunteer ambulance company would increase town taxes.

Emmitsburg town commissioners held an emergency public meeting Monday to hear input from residents about the problem.

At the hearing, the town's board heard from residents and members of the ambulance company and the Vigilant Hose Volunteer Fire Company.

The board then voted to recommend that county commissioners fund a part-time staffing fix that, if ultimately approved by the county, will lead to an increase in property taxes of 6.5 cents per $100 of assessed value for Emmitsburg area property owners.

For a $200,000 house, that would increase the owner's tax bill by about $130 per year, or nearly $11 per month.

Some residents adamantly argued that the town should recommend two full-time paid staff members for the company given the serious service problems and staffing issues. Only six active volunteers answer calls right now, as well as three EMTs.

Two full-time staff members would have increased taxes for the community by 13.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value, or cost about $270 more per year for a $200,000 house.

Describing property taxes as the most unfair to poor and elderly home owners on limited incomes, Emmitsburg board President Bill O'Neil said he believed the best course of action was to recommend the lower rate increase and then re-assess the situation periodically to determine if another increase in staff is needed.

The commissioners eventually agreed to forward a recommendation to the county commissioners asking the county to fund two part-time staff to support the ailing ambulance company.

County commissioners have scheduled a public meeting on the matter, beginning at 9 a.m. today.

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