Ireton issues challenge on fire services, tax differential

From Mayor Jim Ireton’s perspective, County Executive Bob Culver has had more than three months to address the mayor’s call for a tax reform plan and a revamped fire coverage plan.

“We have been as flexible as we possibly can when asking again, again and again for these things to be addressed,” Ireton said at a news conference last week.

From the new County Executive’s perspective, the city-county tax differential and fire services agreement are decades-old dilemmas that merit discussion — but won’t be resolved anytime soon.

Ireton announced last week that he’s not waiting any longer.

To push county officials into addressing the fire services financing conundrum, the mayor announced city firetrucks and ambulances won’t leave the city limits effective July 1. County residents will have to rely on service from other volunteer-based local fire companies.

Ireton also said he will go public with a fire services remedy on April 28 if Culver can’t find time to meet with him.

On the tax differential issue, city officials have complained for decades that Salisbury property owners pay the county for services for which they already pay the city. Ireton wants city residents’ county tax rates to be decreased by about  $0.03 for every $100 of assessable property value.

That would cause a hit to the county coffers of a little more than $1 million.

Culver, who appeared briefly at Ireton’s news event, seemed sympathetic on the taxation issue.

“Jim is completely right,” Culver said. “I’ve always said (that) I don’t want anybody to have to pay double,” Culver said. “I agree there are some problems here.”

The fire services agreement, forged through years and years of interaction between the city, county and local volunteer fire companies, is much more complicated. Ireton, in seeking to cut such a Gordian Knot, declared: “The era of the good old boy network is over.”

Culver, in a written response, said: “The fire service agreement has a long history of cooperation between the city and the county, decades of mutual support and a recognition that each must do its part to provide adequate core services to our community.

“The city and volunteer fire companies have periodically reviewed fire safety districts and have crafted binding mutual aid agreements focused on providing the highest level of public safety response. The mayor now threatens to violate those agreements — agreements made by those professionals who can best design our emergency response system.”

Ireton maintains that Salisbury spends about $2.2 million in fire service costs for county residents, but the county residents don’t reimburse the city.

Data from the County G.I.S. and 911 Computer Aided Dispatch System shows the city responds to 62.95 percent of the fire calls in Wicomico County, yet the Salisbury received just 23.87 percent of the county’s total funding for fire and EMS in FY 2014.

Culver said the county has been looking for a fire service solution of its own.

“Notwithstanding the mayor’s arbitrary demands and timelines,” Culver said, “county staff has been undertaking its own review and analysis of fire and Emergency Service.

“When the county feels that it has completed a thorough, factual investigation, review and analysis, we will issue further statements as to our position.”

 

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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