The Hollywood and Ridge volunteer rescue squads asked for hikes in property taxes this week to provide more funding for operations, but the St. Mary’s County commissioners told them to find other ways to raise money for the time being.
The Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squad gets 1.1 cents per every $100 of assessed property value in its district and asked to increase the tax rate to 2.2 cents. The Ridge Volunteer Rescue Squad gets 0.8 of a cent of every $100 of assessed value and asked for 1.08 cents. The Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad currently has the highest rescue tax in the county at 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Any increase would first require a public hearing and the commissioners told the squads to find other avenues before proceeding.
The Hollywood rescue squad is looking to replace its building in five years and that’s estimated to cost $3.5 million to $4 million. The rescue tax on 5,801 properties in Hollywood brought in $161,198 last year, down 4 percent from the year before as property values have declined, said Treasurer Tim Lenahan.
Costs continue to increase while money from fundraising has decreased. “At this rate, we will have a significant deficit over the next five years,” Lenahan said. The deficit could reach $752,750, with $500,000 of that costs toward a new building, he said. The rescue squad responded to 1,605 calls last year and made 883 transports to the hospital. Those rides are essentially free outside of the rescue tax. Hollywood rescue squad officers noted that other jurisdictions charge between $388 and $500 for a trip to the hospital. If Hollywood charged for trips, it could generate $400,000, but a billing company would have to be hired.
Commission President Jack Russell (D) said, “This board has no intentions of squeezing our rescue squads to death,” and suggested that county finance staff and the rescue squad review loans or perhaps charging for trips to the hospital. “I think it would be beneficial to all of us concerned. I wouldn’t feel well arbitrarily doubling the [tax] rate” without looking at other options first, he said.
“The challenge of going this high takes our breath away collectively,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R). “Doubling it is a very difficult thing.”
“A lot of [emergency] transports can be reimbursed,” Russell said.
“We can see how other counties are doing it,” said Natalie Hines, president of the Hollywood rescue squad.
“You have got to stay solvent,” Russell said.
The Ridge rescue squad responded to 661 calls in 2012, said Christy Bright, treasurer, and the volume of calls has increased by 17 percent during the last seven years. The squad will soon need to replace another ambulance, which costs about $165,000. And the cost of insurance has been spiking, she said.
The Ridge rescue squad gets 0.8 cents of every $100 of assessed value from 3,959 properties in the area. Its income this year is $64,000. If the rate is increased to 1.08 cents, it would bring in $85,300, Bright said.
“We would simply request we take this to the citizens” for public hearing, she said.
“We want you all sustainable for the future,” Russell said, but the board agreed to have county finance staff work with the rescue squad to review other options, especially for the insurance costs.