Ball, however, refuted the argument that the cisterns provide the same benefit as fire hydrants do in the east.

"When my insurance company sets my rate for my homeowners insurance, they don't ask where my nearest cistern is," he said. "They ask if I have supplied water by a hydrant."

Marjorie Cissel, of Woodbine, said the lack of access to water poses more of an inequity than just higher insurance rates.

"When you don't have hydrants, it takes longer to fight a fire because firefighters have to go get water," she said.

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Goddard, however, denies that water supply is still an issue. He said the fire department has commissioned a study, which is "near completion," to show insurance companies that with the addition of water tankers and cisterns in the west, the department can maintain the flow of water long enough to fight a fire.

"Results of this study will help reduce insurance premiums for all residents and businesses located near five miles of a station," he said. (Insurance companies charge higher rates for people who live more than five miles from a station.)

Some of the opponents noted that they already pay more in fire taxes than most people in the east because their property assessments are typically higher.

Lambert Cissel, Marjorie's husband, also argued against the bill, saying it's a fix to a budget problem, not an equity problem.

"The problem is in the budget," he said. "Don't rob Peter to pay Paul. Fix the budget. Tell the county executive, 'Cool it about running for governor.' Stop taking your money out of here and putting it in there."

Council member Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, asked Cissel if he thought there was a significant amount of overspending within the fire budget.

"Absolutely, positively" Cissel responded.

He added: "I'll make you a deal Mrs. Watson. You can raise (the fire tax rate) now, but when the property taxes go back up, put it in your contract, in the bill that you'll lower it back down to 11. OK? I think that's fair."

Watson said "that's certainly something to consider."