Fire protection fee bill passes House

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A bill allowing counties to tax properties to pay for fire protection cleared the Delaware House this week by a near-unanimous vote.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, has co-sponsors from both parties.

The legislation would allow counties to levy a fire protection fee, which would be distributed to the county’s fire and ambulance companies.

The fee would be levied for properties with no exemption for non-profit organizations. A county has the power to exempt certain properties.

The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, noting that state-owned properties are not included and that the dollar amounts collected under the fee are not capped.

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Delaware has only one non-volunteer fire department in Wilmington, which saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year elsewhere in the state. The state does kick in funds for equipment, depending on budget considerations.

Fire and ambulance companies are facing issues that include a lack of volunteers and increasing costs. Revenues from events held at fire halls dropped sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state’s population has also grown to one million, placing further demands on volunteer companies. Sussex County has also seen an influx of older residents who may be more likely to use first responder services, with Delaware having a higher average age than many Sun Belt states.

The state’s largest fire companies, which cover areas with tens of thousands of residents, have paid employees.

The bill has moved to the Senate for consideration.

Click here for more information on the bill.

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