ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s fire and rescue personnel are pushing the General Assembly for a $6 increase in the biennial $70 motor vehicle registration fee to bolster state funding for emergency services.
The money for the fund comes primarily from auto license fees. Fire and rescue’s $16 share of the fee has not increased since 1992.
“We have no other place to go (for money) unless we have another carnival, another dinner, another bingo,” said Charles Mattingly, vice president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association.
The emergency fund will get more than $35 million from license fees this year, but it will expend about $45 million for services and equipment. Some of the difference will be offset by other sources, but the fund is projecting a $5.6 million shortfall at the end of fiscal 2002.
A provision in this year’s budget could mean an even greater financial problem. If the fee is not increased, according to the budget contingency, fire and rescue loses another $13 million.
The fee increase would raise $12.7 million next year and would keep the fund in the black until 2013.
The Emergency Medical System Operations Fund dispenses money to six programs: helicopter transport; a shock trauma center in Baltimore; statewide coordination and training of rescue personnel; county rescue equipment purchases; and a low-interest loan for county fire and rescue companies.
Members of four state associations of fire and rescue personnel pleaded their case to Southern Maryland legislators Friday morning. Assembly members were sympathetic, but had some concerns.
“It’s difficult to justify raising fees when the state has a surplus,” said Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert. Legislators also were perplexed the governor did not use some of the $375 million surplus to boost emergency medical funding. Mark Wasserman from the University of Maryland Medical System, said surplus funds depend too much on the fortunes of the economy. Wasserman asked the legislators for a more consistent source of money to maintain the widespread and high quality services that are provided in Maryland. – 30 – CNS-1-19-01