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Thurmont doesn’t want fire tax increase

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(4/3) The Thurmont Town Commissioners have weighed in on the idea of a single fire tax rate for Frederick County and they think it’s a bad idea for Thurmont.

The county has urban and suburban fire tax districts. Residents in urban districts pay 12.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Residents in suburban districts pay 8 cents and use mostly volunteer staff.

The county commissioners are considering merging the two districts into one and creating a single fire tax rate that would start at 11 cents per $100 of assessed value in July and increase to 12 cents in July 2009. The request came about because five more suburban-district companies have asked to become urban. If all of the companies were moved to the urban district, more than 80 percent of the county would be in an urban district.

“So 80 percent get a tax break, but my residents are going to get an increase to pay for that [tax break],” Mayor Martin Burns said during the town meeting on March 24. “The 20 percent should be praised for the amount of money they’ve saved the county.”

He said a single fire tax district might be more acceptable if the money stayed in town to help Guardian Hose Company and the Thurmont Ambulance Company. However, he noted that that isn’t the reason for the change.

“It’s not going to come back to Thurmont. It’s going to go right out to the 80 percent that can’t get the volunteers,” Burns said.

Mickey Fyock, president of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said that getting adequate staffing for the ambulance companies is the priority.

Burns said that one municipality is already considering forming its own fire department and that maybe Thurmont should consider doing the same.

“I guarantee you that we could do it a lot cheaper than 4 cents,” Burns said. “We can do it a lot cheaper and we could control the costs a lot better than I think the county could.”

Commissioner Bob Lookingbill said the problem is that the companies aren’t being forced to rely on their own resources. If the company can’t get the volunteers it needs, it just asks the county to supply paid personnel, which guarantees that the company won’t ever be a volunteer company again. He compared it to a person who continues to sit in a wheelchair even when he should be trying to walk. Eventually, he won’t be able to walk.

Guardian Hose Fire Chief Chris Kinnaird said he felt as if his company was being “punished” by being able to get volunteers because Thurmont would still be expected to turn out volunteers while paying the same tax as areas that don’t have to get volunteers or do fundraising.

The public hearing about the fire tax will be in Winchester Hall in Frederick on April 22 at 7 p.m.

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