SALISBURY – County leaders this week introduced a legislative bill allowing a property tax credit for disabled police and correctional officers and rescue workers.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to introduce a legislative bill, which would amend the county code to include a property tax credit for Wicomico law enforcement officers, correctional officers and rescue workers disabled in the line of duty, and the surviving spouse of a fallen officer or rescue workers.
“I believe we had an extensive work session and ironed out a lot of the details,” said Council President John Cannon.
According to state code, local governments are able to grant such tax credits to permanently disabled first responders and officers, or their surviving spouses.
Council attorney Andrew Mitchell noted this week the county was looking to adopt its own legislation for workers who were disabled in the line of duty for any law enforcement, correctional or rescue agency in Wicomico.
“The bill that you are looking at just requires that the person be employed or volunteer with an entity in Wicomico County,” he told the council. “It doesn’t have to be a county agency. You don’t have to be working for the sheriff’s department. You can be working for Delmar or Fruitland. You can be a volunteer.”
Councilman Joe Holloway asked if the proposed legislation allowed disabled officers and rescue workers from other counties to receive the tax credit if they moved to Wicomico. Mitchell said it didn’t.
“Under the state, it’s clear they can do that,” he replied. “Ours requires some connection with Wicomico County.”
Mitchell clarified the legislation would only benefit such workers who own property in Wicomico and were disabled working for any law enforcement, correctional or rescue agency in Wicomico, not just county-run operations.
“So we’re not just giving this benefit to somebody that was injured in Baltimore County and then moved here,” Holloway added.
With no further discussion, the council voted unanimously this week to introduce the legislative bill, and to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment in June.
It should be noted the property tax credit introduced this week is capped at $1,500 annually.
Following an initial application, the tax credit would continue from year to year until the property is sold, transferred or ceases to be the residence of the disabled worker or surviving spouse, or if the surviving spouse remarries.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, resident Robert Taylor said he was concerned limitations found in the bill could be unlawful.
He urged the council to consider a property tax credit for any disabled first responder living in Wicomico County, regardless of where they received their disability.
“By and large I think the idea of being provincial about this and restricting it to only those persons who have been involved in Wicomico County is just not good policy,” he said. “There’s not going to be a huge influx of people coming here to get this tax break. Very few would qualify for it, even if it’s opened up to the rest of the state, or for that matter anywhere … So why do it? First responders, wherever they have been, if they are injured and disabled, deserve this kind of treatment.”
Wicomico County Volunteer Firefighters Association President John Hilton said he also had questions about the proposed legislation. When asked if the tax credit would apply to those workers who were injured while responding in another jurisdiction, or completing routine tasks such as washing windows, Mitchell said it would.
“I almost lean toward making this more Wicomico-centric because you do something that benefits Wicomico residents,” Hilton said, “not those moving in from Hartford, Montgomery or any of those counties.”
Hilton also urged county leaders to consider a tax credit for all current volunteer firefighters working in Wicomico County.
“This property tax credit has been brought to this council, to the executive, for three years now, and it keeps getting ignored,” he said.
Officials, however, argued such a tax credit could be costly to implement.
“The one you are referencing is much broader in scope and could be hundreds of thousands of dollars …,” said Council President John Cannon.
Resident Shane Baker still urged the county to do something for local volunteer firefighters.
“I’ve been a first responder since I was 19,” he said. “I’m pretty passionate about this bill, and I think we can do better. I think we need to work with the chiefs association, the firefighters association, and try to make it better. A lot of these guys are volunteers, they don’t get paid. They put their lives on the line, and I think we need to back them.”
Resident James Winn agreed, adding that a tax credit could incentivize volunteers to join.
“I’ve been going around to a lot of fire departments and talking to people, and the one thing I noticed is our fire departments are aging, and we don’t have any youth coming behind them to replace them,” he said. “That’s a concerning thing, that we don’t want to do better for our firemen with a tax credit. If we can do it, we should push forward.”