Let’s make this easy, well in advance of a public hearing to be held specifically on the subject in two months.
The Seventh District Volunteer Rescue Squad would like a local tax increase to cover its expenses. The county commissioners should absolutely make it happen. No questions asked.
The rescue squad in Avenue, whose first-due territory extends roughly from the traffic circle in Clements to Colton’s Point to Chaptico, is requesting a meager tax boost from 1.1 cents to 3 cents on every $100 of assessed value in that area so it can cover increasing operating expenses, equipment costs, pay for a daytime crew member and afford to remodel the existing facility.
What’s that mean for the average taxpayer in the Seventh District? Of course, the amount of the increase would depend upon the value of the individual’s land and improvements as established by the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation, and a number of homes in that part of the county are on the waterfront. But overall, the average impact per household is projected to be $35.72.
Think of what we’re talking about here: These are 100% volunteers — trained and skilled to the level of professional first responders, but still completely unpaid. They are willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to rush to the aid of their neighbors or even strangers in a car wreck, or having a heart attack, or suffering any number of urgent challenges to their health and well-being. When people are having the worst day of their lives, these volunteers are at their caring and comforting best. They are worth every penny. Many communities in this country have had to resort to all-paid rescue squads and ambulance companies, so an average annual cost increase of one pretty good lunch to support the Seventh District’s hard-working rescue squad is by no means off the rails.
And the squad hasn’t had a rescue tax increase in more than 20 years, according to its vice president, who addressed the county commissioners earlier this month. The original tax was 0.9 cents for every $100 of assessed property value before it rose to its current 1.1 cents.
Matt Colliflower told the commissioners the rescue squad runs an average of 700 to 800 calls a year and has 60 squad members and 25 auxiliary members with skill levels ranging from CPR-certified staff to paramedics. Colliflower said the main reason for the tax hike request to 3 cents is to fund a daytime duty crew member to make up for the lack of manpower available during the work day, in addition to the need to renovate the facility, which was last retooled 15 years ago. Other expenses that continue to rise include medical supplies, medications, ambulance maintenance, fuel bills, protective gear, information technology and utilities. Ambulance maintenance has increased to more than $6,500 per year, Colliflower told the commissioners, and fuel costs for those ambulances exceed $8,000 a year, and utilities run more than $17,000 a year.
Also, medical supplies and other patient care consumable items that were once provided by MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital free of charge must now be purchased from outside vendors. The current cost of such supplies exceeds $6,000 a year, not including medications.
It never gets cheaper, and these volunteers can hold only so many bake sales. On top of that, recruitment and retention of squad members has become a challenge for volunteer rescue squads all over St. Mary’s. Previous generations seemed imbued with a volunteer spirit, but rescue squads and fire departments alike are having trouble drawing and keeping younger crew members.
Fundraising and donations can only go so far. And among the rescue squad’s estimated 2020 expenses of more than $632,000 is a new ambulance, which by itself has a price tag of a quarter of a million dollars.
So well in advance of the April 21 public hearing, let’s get behind this modest rescue tax increase for the Seventh District. Apart from the good they do, these volunteers are also a bargain. Someday in St. Mary’s County, we may have to foot a very steep tax bill every year for all-paid ambulance and fire services. So the commissioners owe these volunteers every effort to give them what they want — and what our community needs.