The Hollywood and Ridge volunteer rescue squads were permitted this week to take to public hearing requests to raise taxes in their service areas.
Both squads are now seeking hikes of 0.3 of a cent in the rescue tax, which is included in property tax bills in their service areas.
That is less than the squads originally planned. The requests were reduced at the direction of the St. Mary’s County commissioners.
The Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squad currently receives 1.1 cents per every $100 of assessed value on property in its first-due area. Squad leadership asked to hike the rate to 2.2 cents in preparation of constructing a new building in about five years. The county commissioners said that hike was too steep. Instead, the squad is requesting a new rate of 1.4 cents of assessed value.
The Ridge Volunteer Rescue Squad gets 0.8 of a cent per every $100 assessed value on properties in its first due area. The new rate requested is 1.1 cents. The average mileage on an ambulance call from the Ridge rescue squad is 65 miles, and a new ambulance will be needed soon, according to squad officials. An ambulance costs about $165,000 to outfit.
The proposed increase for the Hollywood first-due area would cost on average $8.01 per property, said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for county government, for a total rescue tax cost of $37 a year. There are 5,809 properties in the district.
In the Ridge first-due area, with 3,948 properties, the proposed hike would cost $6.09 per property for a total rescue tax cost of around $22 a year, Kramer said.
The higher rates would provide $46,546 more to the Hollywood rescue squad a year and $24,022 more a year to the Ridge rescue squad. The taxes currently bring in $161,198 at Hollywood and $64,000 at Ridge.
Public hearings will be held at the two rescue squads.
“Let’s see what the public has to say,” said Commissioner Todd Morgan (R).
“This is why you hold public hearings, to hear from the public,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R). However, if there is any increase in rescue rates, those should be offset somewhere else in the budget, he said.
With the price of gas again accelerating upward, Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said he would support the rescue tax increasing by 0.4 cents rather than 0.3 cents. “I don’t think this money’s wasted in any way,” he said.
Last week, the Hollywood rescue squad brought up the notion of charging patients for an ambulance ride to the hospital as an alternative way to raise money.
Morris said, “Are we going to look into fees of services for those covered by insurance?”
Kramer said county fiscal staff is not prepared at this stage of the budget cycle to fully investigate that option. The fiscal 2014 budget needs to be finalized by the end of May, and begins July 1.
A study is planned for the next fiscal year. “We’ll start gathering the information that’ll help the commissioners and the community,” said Sue Sabo, acting county administrator.
“We ought to look to reimbursement to some of these companies if the insurance covers it,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D).
The rescue squad tax rates range in St. Mary’s from 0.8 cents per $100 of assessed value in Valley Lee, Mechanicsville and Chaptico to 1.7 cents per $100 in Lexington Park.