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Fire tax increase proposed for some

(12/22) Frederick County residents presently pay a fire tax to the county to help pay for the personnel necessitated by paid emergency response units operating in and around the various communities.

This could all change, including the rates charged for urban fire services, if the county commissioners adopt a proposed 2013-2014 budget presently pending before the board.

Although commonly referred to as a fire tax, Commissioner Blaine R. Young explained, the budgeting problem relates more the emergency medical services.

"We do not have a fire problem," he stated. "We have a emergency ‘ambulance’ problem, and that is why we need so many paid personal (to reliably staff ambulances)."

The county presently categorizes their fire tax as a "special area property tax," which is a tax devised to be assessed in "specially defined areas of the county (such as urban or suburban) to fund defined projects and programs."

County residents currently pay their fire tax rate based on whether or not they own property within an area classified by the county as an urban or suburban and based on what fire and ambulance services are considered the first responder for that area.

"Some areas of the county are not levied (a fire tax) as their first due fire companies are fire companies outside Frederick County," according to the county, although, as Young pointed out, those residents still require emergency responses expending county tax dollars if they have an accident or other emergency within the country outside of their community.

For those who do pay a county fire tax, the current fire tax rate for urban areas is 12.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value, and eight cents per $100 of assessed real estate value for suburban properties. Emmitsburg property owners, for example, pay the urban rate of 12.8 cents, as do Rocky Ridge property owners.

Reportedly as part of a move to address fiscal concerns as the commissioners close-in on the approval of the proposed 2013-2014 county budget, the board is proposing to consolidate the fire taxes in with the currently independently assessed property tax.

Further, the move would effectively entail doing away with the urban/suburban classification for fire tax purposes, and all property owners would be assessed a tax rate at the current urban rate of 12.8 cents.

The current property tax rate in the county is 93.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value. If the proposed budget were to be approved, the 12.8 cent fire tax would be added to the current 93.6 cent property tax, which would create a new property tax rate of 106.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Young stated, "Right now there are major deficits in the fire tax fund, and last year $12 million was taken from the general fund to balance the fire tax. This is only growing."

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