Understanding The Fire And Rescue Services Operating Budget Increase

If you have had the time to review the 2020 Howard County Operating Budget you might have noticed the BIG increase for Fire and Rescue Services. When I say big…I mean more than $29 million dollars over what was budgeted in 2019. That caught my attention…and maybe yours as well. I reached out to Howard County Government to try and understand this increase and I have some information you may find helpful.

First let’s look at the approved operating budget amounts for Fire and Rescue Services over the past few years:

  • 2015: $98,260,250
  • 2016: $101,204,658
  • 2017: $96,244,082
  • 2018: $104,170,763
  • 2019: $109,214,935
  • 2020: $138,519,420

Yep…that 2020 number is big compared to other yearly increases…but why? I am going to share information sent to me in emails from Howard County Government explaining the 2020 increases.

I think it might be best to understand the full picture of that $29.3 million represents. The department’s base year over year increase before the revenue enhancements (tax increase and EMS billing) and any new effort is $6.9 million. This includes salary adjustments, increases to health insurance and pension, as well as costs associated with chargebacks and debt service.

OK…$6.9 million is not that significant for a one year increase…it is big but not historic so I get the explanation above. Here is more:

This leaves about $22.4 million in new effort costs in which $16.6 million is dedicated to the two new stations (CIP transfer).

And more information about the $16.6 million for the new stations:

The increase in the Logistics Bureau of 228% is due to the transfer from the department’s operating fund to the CIP for the costs of the Waterloo Fire Station in the amount of $8.8 million and cost for the North Columbia Station of $7.6 million.

So they are funding some of the 2020 Capital Budget projects for Fire and Rescue Services with Operating funds. That is an interesting strategy and if you have that type of money in operating funds…why not. Here is even more information:

Of the remaining $5.8 million, $1.2 million is dedicated to apparatus for Waterloo (this is not part of CIP but part of their operating budget and is considered a new effort), and the remaining $4.6 million is dedicated to funding the academy class and new positions.

So the $6.9 million + the $5.8 million is nearly $13 million in increases in the 2020 operating budget. Still a significant amount. Here is a final bit of additional information sent to me:

So while yes, an increase of nearly $13 million year over year looks hefty on paper, half of that (53%) are increases that would have happened regardless of any revenue/expenditure enhancement in FY 2020 as it is the department’s base increase from the previous year. So if you remove the one-time costs of the stations and the base increase, new costs for the department are really $5.8 million.

So if you were like me and read that increase in the budget and went “HOLY COW”…hopefully the information above helps explain it.

I fully support funding the Fire and Rescue Services to the greatest amount possible within the budget…and if your house ever catches fire or are in an auto accident that requires their services…I am guessing you will feel the same way.

A BIG TIME THANK YOU to Scott Peterson (Director of Communications, Office of Public Information) for helping me obtain this information for the article.

I have more articles coming soon about other areas of the operating budget that caught my eye. Stay tuned for those in the near future.

Scott E

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  1. Western Howard County fire tax went up drastically over the past 2 yrs. Drastically !!!
    Even though, they require less fire services.

    So are Western Howard County property owners paying for all the fire expenditures for Elkridge and Columbia ??

    Don’t forget Ball just eliminated the mobile home tax (which has been around for the past 30-40? yrs). Maybe, he should have used those funds towards fire services?


  2. On another budget related item, please help me understand why the Howard County taxpayers should give $600,000 to Merriweather Post Pavilion for “renovations”? Last time I checked they charge for admission don’t they? (ticket prices seem to run between $50 and $225 each depending on the event). The whole financing and budget for MPP is a closely keep secret, even though it’s basically a County Government owned facility. We can only guess at the corruption, graft and financial impropriety that is taking place at MPP. Is MPP losing money? If not, then why do they need a $600k gift from taxpayers? If it IS losing money, then why not raise ticket prices or look at other ways to generate revenue? Let the taxpayers keep their money and we can choose our own charity’s to donate to. We have much more important and worthy causes to support with tax dollars as a County than Merriweather Post Pavilion.


  3. Ricardo asked “So are Western Howard County property owners paying for all the fire expenditures for Elkridge and Columbia ??”

    And the answer is Yes. Starting six or so years ago the county council voted to “equalize” tax rates for Eastern and Western county residents. In that time my “fire tax” has increased from a few hundred dollars to now over $1500.

    Where is all this money going?

    Howard County’s budget shows every sign of financial irresponsibility and mismanagement. The leadership refuses to act in the interest of property owners but instead views property owners as piggy banks they can crack open to fund every wishful desire.

    How does the cost of fire & rescue in Howard County compare to other counties? What costs are efficient spending? What costs are unnecessary?

    This Howard County resident is counting all the costs and realizing the price of being a Howard County resident is too much.


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