The Howard County Council’s only Republican, Greg Fox, filed an amendment to the county's proposed budget Tuesday afternoon that would limit the increase in the fire tax, which officials have said would pay for new firefighters and an additional ambulance.
Fox filed the amendment to the Howard County fiscal year 2013 budget at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to a press release.
Previously, Howard County was divided into two fire tax districts. The County Council approved the consolidation and tax increase earlier this year.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman’s proposal is a countywide fire tax of 17.6 cents per $100 of assessed value. For the western part of the county, the current tax rate is 11.55 cents per $100 of assessed property value; and Ulman's proposal would represent an increase of 52 percent. For the eastern part, the current tax rate is 13.55 cents, or a 30 percent increase under Ulman's plan.
Under Fox’s proposal, which places the fire tax rate at a lower number of 14.25 cents per $100 of assessed value, the increase would be 23 percent for western residents and 5 percent for eastern residents.
“The citizens of Howard County have just been disproportionately hit by the governor and Democrat-controlled legislature during the special session by increasing income taxes and reducing exemptions resulting in more than a $3 million increase,” Fox said in a press release.
Raymond S. Wacks, the Howard County budget administrator, said Tuesday that Ulman’s proposed fire tax rate was optimal and was set this year with the idea it wouldn’t increase for three years.
“We gave this a lot of thought, and we thought in terms of holding costs level … that was the best thing,” he said.
Fox also criticized a $15 million fire department fund balance expected to be generated by the fire tax.
“Now the county executive wants to remove another $15 million out of our citizens’ wallets and the Howard County economy. It is absurd,” Fox said in the press release.
Wacks said the fire tax would hold a $15 million fund balance in its first year, and in subsequent years that balance would be used to keep the fire tax rate at the same level while still paying for expected increasing costs in the fire department, such as salaries and medical equipment. Meanwhile, county revenues from assessed home values are expected to increase more slowly, he said.
Fox did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday to further address his proposed amendment.
Wacks has said the fire tax is estimated to generate $63.1 million in FY 2012. In 2013, he said, that number would increase to $78.1 million.
Ulman’s proposed increase would largely go toward funding 41 new positions to staff the Glenwood Fire Station, which will open this year in Western Howard County, and a new paramedic unit for the Ellicott City fire station, according to an article in the Howard County Times.
It would also pay for nine medical technicians at the Ellicott City station, Wacks said Tuesday.
Fox has told the Howard County Times if the amendment he proposes on the fire tax passes, he would vote for the budget this year, which would be his first positive vote on the budget bill since he took office in 2006.
The vote on the Howard County budget is scheduled for Thursday, May 31, at 10:30 a.m., Fox said. Meetings are held at the county’s office building, 3430 Courthouse Dr. in Ellicott City.