The Aegis
Harford County

Bel Air mulls increasing tax credits for its volunteer firefighters; public hearing scheduled for March 1

The Town of Bel Air is considering increasing a property tax credit for active members of its volunteer firefighting company — potentially affording them a tax credit of up to $1,000 per household, according to legislation before the town commissioners.

A public hearing on two pieces of legislation aimed at increasing the tax credit members of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company receive is scheduled for March 1 at 7:30 p.m., according to the town’s website. Because of pandemic restrictions, the meeting will be held virtually, and those who wish to speak can call into the meeting or email their comments to the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners.


If the ordinance and accompanying charter amendment pass, active members of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company will be eligible for an annual property tax credit of $500 each — up to a maximum of $1,000 per household. The tax credit would go into effect on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The tax credit has conditions, though. The home to which the credit applies has to be the primary residence of a volunteer for at least a year before the fiscal year when the credit kicks in, and they must own the home. Recipients can not have “delinquent financial debt obligations” owed to the town, and employees of the town who volunteer with the fire company can only claim one tax credit, according to the legislation.


Bel Air has offered a tax credit for its volunteer firefighters since 2001, but the amount credited is computed on only the first $5,000 of a home’s assessed value, according to the charter. The amendment up for consideration would strike that from the charter, and the ordinance would replace it with the new language.

Both the charter amendment and ordinance were introduced at a Feb. 1 meeting of the five-member board of town commissioners.

Speaking before the board of town commissioners at that meeting, Director of Administration Michael Krantz thanked the town’s emergency workers and said that the current tax credit is in need of an update. Further still, he said the intent was to attract new blood to the volunteer fire service and retain volunteers.

“The board of commissioners and staff wish to provide an incentive or otherwise a reward to members of the fire company for their service,” he said.

Harford County has historically relied on its volunteer fire and EMS services. But the pressures of long training periods and the hard hours spent after their day jobs leave many burnt out and dissuade potential volunteers from applying. Volunteer services are also cheaper than the county shouldering the burden.

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Rich Gardiner, a spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company has around 150 members.

Gardiner said the legislation was a great step in the recruitment process, but the county still “has a long way to go.”

With the pandemic, Bel Air’s fire company has not been able to meet in person to hold conduct routine business or vote in new members. He said recruitment and retention personnel were figuring out a way to chart a course for finding and keeping volunteers through the pandemic.


“We see that people are working hard to take care of their families and their jobs during these difficult times and doesn’t lend them the time to spend away from home or work like it used to do, thus it takes away from those who may have considered volunteering or were already volunteering,” Gardiner said. “Offers to help boost recruitment and retention efforts are much appreciated, much like this legislation, but we now need to get through this rough time and reexamine our overall recruitment and retention approach to the new world we are now facing.”

Recruitment and retention of volunteers have long been issues with the volunteer system across the country. Some governments have stepped in to offer incentives to would-be volunteers.

In September, County Executive Barry Glassman’s administration launched a program that pays volunteer fire and EMS workers $5,000 a year to help pay their student loans, provided they meet certain specifications. The program defrays the cost of student loans for four years — making $20,000 the maximum any volunteer can earn. That program was believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland; it was modeled after legislation in Pennsylvania.

The county is home to 12 volunteer companies; some volunteers are paid, some are not, according to the county administration.