SALISBURY – County leaders this week approved a legislative bill allowing a property tax credit for disabled officers and rescue workers.
Following a public hearing Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted to approve a legislative bill, which amends 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, or for the surviving spouse of a fallen officer or rescue worker.
“It sets up a mechanism by which people in a particular class can request and receive a tax exemption on their county real estate tax,” said council attorney Andrew Mitchell. “It sets a cap and things of that nature.”
According to state code, local governments are able to grant such tax credits to permanently disabled first responders and officers, or their surviving spouses. Officials noted the proposed legislation would allow Wicomico County to adopt its own tax credit program.
In this week’s public hearing, however, Wicomico County Volunteer Firefighters Association President John Hilton said he had concerns about the proposed legislation.
“If you look around this room tonight, you see no one here in support of it from corrections, fire service or police service,” he said. “I think it would be a better use of time to go back and reevaluate this and get support from them before you pass this.”
Hilton argued that the proposed tax credit would provide another benefit to those receiving some form of compensation.
“Most of the ladies and gentlemen that are going to benefit from this bill have received some form of workers compensation or disability payment,” he said. “I feel this is almost a double dip. I understand it is a thank you … but I think this is doing more than what the county should be doing at this time.”
Resident Tim Arnet disagreed.
“This is a very simple gesture to say thank you to the workers that do get injured, or God forbid killed, in the line of duty in this county,” he said. “We do have workers comp benefits, those are state benefits. We don’t have anything from the county that says thank you for their years and years of service to this county.”
Arnet added that the proposed tax credit program had a minimal tax impact. He questioned, however, why the proposed legislation did not include a reciprocity agreement for Wicomico personnel injured while working for another county.
“We don’t have a county fire department that is a career paid fire department, so we force people to go outside the county to look for that employment,” he said. “If they are injured outside the county, the way that the bill is written now, they will not receive that credit.”
Following the public hearing, Councilwoman Nicole Acle made a motion to amend the legislation to include a reciprocity agreement with counties that have existing tax credit legislation for officers and rescue workers.
Council President John Cannon, however, said mutual aid was considered in the legislation.
“The bill as it is right now does state if it’s a matter of mutual aid, where Wicomico County is assisting Dorchester or somewhere else, it will be compensated,” he said.
Councilman Bill McCain agreed.
“I think that was the main reason we decided to leave it like this, because they were covered in that situation,” he added.
A motion to amend the bill failed with Cannon, McCain and Councilmen Josh Hastings and Ernie Davis opposed.
A motion to approve the bill then passed unanimously.