Ocean City Today

OC Volunteer Fire Co. pushes for tax break

By Brian Gilliland | Feb 15, 2018
Photo by: Submitted photo Jay Jester

(Feb. 16, 2018) With rising costs of home ownership in the resort area and falling numbers of volunteers in the ranks, Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company President Jay Jester said a $2,500 property tax credit enabled by the General Assembly last year might just be what the doctor ordered.

“This is specifically for retention,” Jester said. “It’s easier to keep the guy you have then to bring in someone new, and it only affects property owners, which can mean two, three or four mortgage payments.”

Jester said he approached the Worcester County Commissioners with the idea to implement the tax credit in late January during the annual meeting between the commissioners and the local fire chiefs.

County officials said they had not received a formal request to discuss the topic.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, representing Ocean City, said the idea was worth looking at depending on the county’s ability to pay for the tax break.

The ability to offer this kind of tax break was established by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan last year.

The law allows county and municipal governments to grant a tax credit for up to $2,500, but not to exceed the actual tax bill on a given property, for primary residences of “public safety officers.”

The law defines public safety officers as fulltime firefighters, emergency medical technicians, correctional officers, police officers or deputy sheriffs employed by a public safety agency in the county or municipality where the person lives. Volunteer firefighters are included.

Worcester County’s current property tax rate is 83.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. If the county chose to deliver the full credit to volunteer firefighters, the home would have to be assessed to be worth at least $300,000 to get the full credit.

Counties and municipalities are given wide latitude in how they choose to apply the credit. According to the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services analysis of the bill, county and municipal governments may establish the amount, duration and any additional eligibility requirements to claim the credit.

“There are about 600 volunteer firefighters in Worcester County, but not all own homes, maybe one-half to one-third do,” Jester said.

He also said the rolls of active volunteer firefighters have decreased by half in the last 20 years. The goal of winning the credit would be an extra incentive to those working other jobs to consider volunteering, Jester said.

“When I heard about it I thought it was the greatest thing for Worcester. I’m holding my own [with volunteers] but we’d always like to have more,” Jester said.

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