County Council approves new bill to rebate sprinkler cost


Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Firefighters watch as a demonstration fire spreads at a presentation by the Maryland State Fire Marshall’s office in 2015.

CAMBRIDGE — At their July 5 meeting, the Dorchester County Council approved Bill # 2016-3, in hopes of spurring new home construction and lighten the load on new homeowners’ finances. The bill provides for a property tax credit against the property tax imposed on newly-constructed residential property constructed with an automatic fire protection sprinkler system.

The bill came about during Council deliberations in the months following the creation of what has become known as the “sprinkler code,” after the State of Maryland mandated the installation of fire sprinkler systems in new home construction, and in extensive renovation projects on residences.

Resistance to the Maryland law came in the form of protests from contractors and developers, who claimed that immediately following the passage of the sprinkler law all new construction orders stopped.
Dorchester County, along with a number of other Maryland counties, petitioned the state for an opt-out clause, which is still being reviewed and deliberated by Annapolis.

At a demonstration early in the year the effectiveness of a home sprinkler system was illustrated by the state in a traveling display created by the Maryland State Fire Marshal. County Councilmen witnessed the demonstration, and agreed that sprinklers are very effective in reducing fire damage.

Bill 2016-3 was created on the thinking that an empty, unsold lot generates little in the way of property taxes. Rebating the cost of a mandatory sprinkler system on a new property tax property would not cost the county anything — since there were no substantial taxes generated before construction — and it would be a good incentive to new homebuilders.
“Anytime when government can lower the tax burden on people, it’s a good thing,” said Councilman Rick Price.

“Having been a firefighter I understand the importance of a sprinkler system,” said Councilman Don Satterfield. “But this, (the tax credit) was almost a must for us in Dorchester.”

A roll call vote conducted by County Attorney Tom Merryweather resulted in a unanimous yes decision (Council President Travers was absent) and the bill was passed into law. “We have a bill passed, and this will apply to the FY2016-2017 tax code,” announced Mr. Merryweather.

In other county business, a request to apply for a Community Legacy Grant for an additional $500,000 to be used in the stabilization of the Hearn Building on the 500 block of Race Street in Cambridge was approved. The subject of the Hearn Building always generates comment, from the residents in attendance as well as council members, and County Manager Jeremy Goldman explained that the grant in question was attached to the building only, and does not go to the owner. The money can only be used towards the stabilization and renovation of the building, and cannot be used for any other purpose.

Mr. Goldman then explained that stabilizing and protecting the property was the only way to make it marketable, and that if the money is available for this purpose, the county should apply and use it if approved, since the grant money available would only go to another project, possibly in Baltimore or elsewhere.

A vote was taken and Councilman Price opposed, stating that he was not in favor with the county’s involvement with the project from the beginning. The vote passed, and the grant will be applied for.

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