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Howard County Executive Ball's proposed fire tax hike would be a 34% increase

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has proposed raising the fire and rescue tax by 6 cents, a 34% increase.

The current rate is 17.6 cents for every $100 of assessed value on real property, which includes residences, buildings and farms. It would be increased to 23.6 cents by mid-summer, if the County Council approves.

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Eligible personal property owned by businesses would also increase by 15 cents or 34%. The current rate is 44 cents per $100 assessed value. Eligible property includes furniture and equipment used to operate a business.

In Ball’s proposed operating budget of $1.7 billion for fiscal 2020, the fire and rescue tax increase is said to help pay for two new fire stations and the support needed to run them. The move would allow the county to propose an additional $29.5 million for the fire and rescue reserve fund next fiscal year, the budget projected.

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This 27.5% increase to fire and rescue reserve fund is based on the assumption the proposed tax increase resolution will pass. Ball proposed a $138.5 million fire and rescue services operating budget overall for next fiscal year. If the County Council does not approve Ball’s resolution as is, the projected increase to fire and rescue’s budget could change.

The fire and rescue tax is collected alongside property taxes and is . While property taxes go into the county’s general fund, this tax goes into a fund specifically is designated for the operating and capital costs of fire and rescue services. The rate has not changed since 2013, according to a county press release.

After months of waiting to learn the fate of flood reduction efforts in historic Ellicott City, Howard County decided on an expensive proposal.

Councilman David Yungmann, a Republican whose district includes the western portion of the county, proposed amending the tax so it would slowly increase across three years.

“I support the funding needed to support staffing that ensures the highest level of service for our citizens and the safety of our fire and rescue personnel,” Yungmann said in an email.

Yungmann’s proposal would increase the tax by approximately 10% each year.

“My amendment will defer the majority of this tax increase until the funds are needed and ensure that the funds are leveraged for maximum benefit,” he added.

Howard County Fire Chief Christine Uhlhorn praised Ball’s proposal. In an opinion column submitted to the Howard County Times, she cited increasing population growth, which places a higher burden on firefighters and paramedics, as a reason to support the increase.

“This modest increase is absolutely the right call,” Ulhorn wrote. “It’s not the politically convenient move, but this 6-cent increase will save lives.”

Ball is also calling for a new ambulance fee.

The fee would be billed to insurance companies for patients that use an ambulance in the county. The fee would charge either $700 or $750, depending on the level of care. The proposal would impose a $10 per mile fee. It’s projected to generate $1.8 million for the fire and rescue fund, according to the proposed operating budget.

Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties all impose ambulance fees.

Ball’s proposals are based on recommendations from an April report from the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee that warned the county it could soon outpace its revenue unless spending is checked.

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The County Council will vote on the proposed operating and capital budgets next week.

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