The St. Mary’s County Commissioners have approved a public hearing for a request by the Seventh District Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) to increase the fire tax they receive from the county. The request is for an increase from 4.4 cents per assessed $100 to 5.6 cents. The increase, if approved, would be effective for the Fiscal Year 2015 tax year that begins on July 1 of this year. It would affect taxpayers in the 4th and 7th Election Districts.

Seventh District VFD President John “Speedy” Nelson explained to the commissioners that the department did not go for the allowable tax which now equates to 5.6 cents but instead opted the lower rate, when the tax was initiated in 1988. He said, “The department vowed to the community that they would not conduct major fund raisers once the tax was passed.”

In the ensuing years inflation has caught up with them, Nelson said. Yearly increases for fuel, insurance, equipment replacement, personal protective equipment, recruitment and retention have outpaced the increases in tax monies received, which he said was only $3,951 in the last three years. Tax monies received in 2013 were $293,964.

Nelson said the department also has plans to renovate its fire station that was last upgraded in 1980.  He said the station “does not have sleeping quarters or showers for firefighters which does not allow the station to be staffed even if members want to stay at the station.” He said the station also does not have ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant restrooms or walkways. Cost for the proposed renovation is $800,000 to one million dollars.

Nelson said the department is also considering a substation, possibility in the Clements area. He said it is difficult to get volunteers in the northern reaches of their first due area to come to Avenue.

Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) cautioned about building a substation because of the cost of operating it. He noted the 7th District VFD served a rural area not likely to grow.

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th) wondered with everything on the department’s plate if they were asking for enough. Nelson said he believed it would be sufficient.

Appearing with Nelson for the presentation to the commissioners on Tuesday was department Vice President Mike Huseman.

The public hearing will be at a location somewhere in the department’s first due area at a time and place to be announced. The commissioners could then incorporate the tax in their budget that will go to public hearing in April. Jarboe urged the volunteers to bring supporters of the tax increase to that public