Howard County panel asks public for help in improving fire tax system

The county wants to fix its antiquated fire tax system but doesn't know how.

"If someone has a bright idea, we want it," said James H. Eacker. He is chairman of a 14-member committee appointed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, to look at the fire tax system and make recommendations for improving it.


The committee will hold public hearings on the fire tax at 7:30 tonight in the county office building and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Clarksville Elementary School.

Each night, the committee will summarize the problem and possible solutions, then seek citizens' advice.


The problem is this: the county has six fire districts, each with its own tax rate. Most rates have little correlation to the service offered in each district.

The fire tax districts "made sense years ago when stations were near where the services were delivered," Mr. Eacker said. "Today those stations don't bear resemblance to the primary response area."

Although the Lisbon fire station handles most of the calls in District 4, a more typical situation, Mr. Eacker said, is District 6, where the Savage, Long Reach and Rivers Park stations respond to calls outside the district 65 percent of the time.

Fire district taxes range from 15 cents per $100 of assessed value in District 1, Elkridge, to 23 cents in District 5, Clarksville. Unless the fire tax structure is changed, District 5 residents will pay 33 cents next year to cover a new station that will mostly provide services elsewhere.

As a result of that increase, the owner of a $180,000 house in Clarksville would pay $238 next year for fire protection, an increase of $72. An Elkridge resident living in a $180,000 home would continue to pay $108 for the same protection.

Charging residents different amounts for the providing the same service across the county doesn't make sense, Mr. Eacker said. His panel is considering maintaining "the highly inequitable systems that has served us well in the past," getting state legislative permission to collect a county-wide tax, or incorporating the fire service into the general fund and handle it like the police department.

"Both nights of hearings are directed to the average resident," he said. "We plan to use the bulk of time to hear from them."

The committee of civic leaders, government employees and career and volunteer fire fighters, has been asked to report to Ms. Pendergrass and the county executive by Nov. 20.



Where: County Office Building.

When: 7:30 p.m.

The committee's second public hearing is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Clarksville Elementary School.