CENTREVILLE — With unanimous support, and amid a chamber full of first responders, the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners passed a law granting a property tax credit for volunteer firefighters Tuesday, June 11.
Ordinance 19-11, introduced by County Commissioner Jack Wilson, provides “a tax credit against county property tax on certain real property owned by volunteer fire department members in Queen Anne’s County, establishing eligibility requirements for such tax credits and the amount, terms and conditions of the credit.”
The tax credit may be granted in an amount of up to $2,500 per dwelling, but not to exceed the amount of the tax on the property, with a five-year phase-in period. In tax years beginning July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, the tax credit is not to exceed $1,500.
In tax years beginning July 1, 2021 and July 1, 2022, the tax credit is not to exceed $2,000. Finally, in tax years beginning July 1, 2023 and beyond, the tax credit is not to exceed $2,500.
To be eligible for this tax credit, county fire department volunteers must have maintained active service status for three consecutive years and be a resident property owner of the county.
Such a credit ceases if “the volunteer fire department member has failed to maintain active service status in the preceding calendar year. In the event the volunteer fire department member shall fail to maintain active service status for two consecutive years.”
Also, the credit ends if the individual who qualifies no longer lives in the dwelling in which the credit is applied.
An individual seeking a credit must submit proof of eligibility to the Fire and EMS Commission.
The ordinance also stipulates “during each subsequent year, the verification that the Fire and EMS Commission requires to show that the individual and the property remain qualified for the credit.”
According to the emergency bill, eligibility is defined as a member of one of the nine independent volunteer fire companies, and one who has maintained active service status as determined by the Queen Anne’s County Fire and EMS Commission for at least three consecutive calendar years accounting from January 1, 2016.
“The shortage of volunteer personnel is a nationwide issue and one we are dealing with to keep the current number of firefighters and EMS staff,” said Bill Faust, chairman of the Fire and EMS Commission, in support of the ordinance. “This tax credit will be another tool to attract new members and retain the current membership. By tapping into these resources, we can reach out to those who already have training to answer emergency calls.”
Faust’s brother Mike, a volunteer firefighter with Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Company who is also vice president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, said Queen Anne’s will be the third county in the state to enact such an ordinance.
“This is a powerful tool for recruitment and retention,” he said. Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department President Jody Schulz and KIVFD volunteer Francis Roudiez agreed. They all spoke in favor of Ordinance 19-11 on behalf of the roomful of first responders from the county’s nine volunteer fire departments.
Under the ordinance, the Fire and EMS Commission will annually submit to the Queen Anne’s County Department of Budget, Finance and Information Technology a list of the individuals and properties eligible to receive tax credit under this section for the following tax year by June 1 of the preceding tax year.
This allows the department “to provide such a tax credit on the tax bills rendered to the eligible individuals, except that, for the tax year beginning July 1, 2019, such list shall be submitted by June 15, 2019.”
Although the bill garnered praise upon its passage, an emergency amendment by County Commissioner Steve Wilson stated that funds for the credit should not be taken from the fund balance, but rather the Business Reinvestment and Infrastructure Development Grant Enterprise fund. The total cost of the credit to the county for the first year was was estimated at about $225,000.
“Normally in the process of doing the funding, everything we do is done in balance, and the budget is now closed. I would not like to see this money come from emergency services, roads or other operating programs,” Wilson said.
The commissioners agreed the amount to cover the tax credit in the year beginning July 1, 2019, would be taken from the BRIDGE Economic Development Program fund, which had an excess of an estimated $300,000. Any money taken from the BRIDGE fund will be returned by the next budget cycle, county commissioners agreed.