Should Baltimore County police, firefighters and other public safety workers get a property tax break?

Public safety employees and volunteer firefighters in Baltimore County would get annual property tax credits under a proposal being considered by the County Council.

A bill is being touted by its sponsor, Republican Wade Kach of Cockeysville, as a way to retain talented first responders in the county. The tax credits would apply to police officers, emergency medical technicians, sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers and both professional and volunteer firefighters who live in the county.

They would get up to a $1,500 discount next year on property taxes, up to $2,000 in 2020 and up to $2,500 in 2021.

The proposal was introduced at a council meeting last week, prior to the death Thursday of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Kach, who is running for re-election in a district spanning the northern part of the county, said the county can afford the tax credits, and should pass the legislation to stay competitive with others in the Baltimore area.

In 2017, state lawmakers passed a bill to allow local governments to offer the credits, and jurisdictions including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County have done so.

“We have an excellent police force [and] fire department,” Kach said. “Our volunteers do a tremendous service for our communities. …I don’t want to see Baltimore County fall behind and not be competitive with our neighbors in continuing to attract the best first responders.”

Kach also pointed to problems the county has had retaining correctional officers. The county detention center has been racking up overtime and training costs due to job vacancies.

The county auditor’s office has not released an estimate of how much Kach’s proposal would cost, but several Democrats on the council have already expressed concern about the potential price tag.

“My initial concerns are, how do we afford these things in a year where our budget is very tight?” said Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. “It’s something we’ll have to look at and discuss. … We haven’t seen the final numbers from the auditor’s office, but I think the price tag will be fairly significant.”

Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said he also needs to see estimates on the budget impact before taking a position on the bill.

“In general, I’m very supportive of the public safety community,” said Jones, a retired Anne Arundel County firefighter. But Jones said he believes that when one group receives a tax break, it ends up “disproportionately taxing everybody else.”

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who is running for county executive, said she does not support the bill in its current form, calling it “a little bit broad.”

Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall said he supports the bill, and hopes the council can come to a “strong bipartisan consensus” on the proposal. He said he believes it’s a good thing for police officers to live in local neighborhoods, and thinks the bill would encourage that.

“Many of our police officers live in Carroll and Harford counties and Pennsylvania,” Marks said. “I do think when a police officer is a resident of the neighborhood, it improves public safety.”

John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, called the proposed tax credits “well deserved.” The union’s members include correctional officers.

“Of course we should want our local public safety employees shopping at our grocery stores, worshiping in local churches, going to the local movies, and volunteering in our community recreation programs,” Ripley said in a statement. “Having public safety employees live in the jurisdiction that [they] serve, can only make Baltimore County a safer place.”

alisonk@baltsun.com

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