Richard Leapley, a Montgomery County firefighter, and his wife Barbara own a 15-year-old home on a half-acre lot.

They paid $55,000 for the house, and $641 in county taxes this year.

They did not do it in Montgomery County, where the Leapleys would like to live. Instead, the couple bought their home in Howard.

"I'm paid by Montgomery County, I would like to live here," said Leapley, a man with a droopy mustache and bassett-hound eyes. l"But on $23,000 a year, there's no way."

Although his home on Old Skaggsville Road is less than 10 miles from the Burtonsville fire station where he has worked for the past eight years, Leapley wishes he lived closer.

He also would like to benefit from Montgomery's fire and police services and have his 2-year-old daughter Kim someday attend Montgomery County schools.

Ironically, Leapley is one of many teachers, firefighters, police officers and others who help give Montgomery its reputation for good community services but who themselves cannot take advantage of any of them.

Leapley has a part-time job as a school bus driver and tries to work as much overtime at the fire station as he can.

"You scrape here and you scrape there and somehow you survive," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"The guys (at the fire station) sit around and talk about this a lot," he continued. "Everyone's dream is having a house. But I honestly think it's getting to the point where you have to decide between having a house and having a family."

Eleven full-time firefighters work at the Burtonsville station. Of the six who have families, four, including Leapley, live outside Montgomery County.

Firefighters, in a year of double-digit inflation, received a 7.9 percent cost-of-living salary increase.

"Well, Montgomery County keeps you in the ball park, at least," he said of the raise. "But there are days when we live week to week, and that's the truth."