Some Howard County residents last night praised a proposal to cap increases on property tax assessments at 5 percent, but civic group leaders opposed the measure.
"We can see our taxes going up more and more every year," Kelly Hereth of Woodbine told a County Council hearing. She said she supports a bill sponsored by Councilman Charles Feaga, R-5th, to limit the increases because higher taxes could force her family to sell their farm.
"We have not seen our [income] keep up with the rate of inflation or the rate of taxes, so we're looking at less and less income to feed our children, pay our bills and buy our fuel," Hereth said.
Rod Summerford of Columbia complained that tax bills in his Owen Brown community are rising by 10 to 20 percent a year.
"I don't know how many people's salaries in this audience have gone up 15 percent," he said. "That being the case, tax increases of 15 percent would exceed your salary over a period of time."
The administration of County Executive Elizabeth Bobo has asked the council to delay action on the tax-cap proposal until state officials release their figures on assessments. The delay would put off debate on the issue until after the November general election.
Charles I. Ecker, the Republican candidate for county executive, testified at the hearing that the bill would bring "truth in taxing" to county voters. He said that, although the tax rate remains fairly constant, some taxpayers get automatic boosts in their tax bills because of 15 percent annual assessment increases.
"With this 'truth-in-taxing bill,' the council and the executive will be more accountable to the public," he said.
Feaga projected that capping assessment increases at 5 percent a year would leave the county with about $2.5 million a year less than what is currently generated. The tax rate currently is $2.45 per $100 of assessed valuation. A law passed by the General Assembly this year already reduced the cap from 15 to 10 percent and allowed local jurisdictions to set lower rates by Jan. 1.
Raymond Wacks, the county budget administrator, said Feaga's bill would amount to a regressive tax, providing a greater benefit to owners of more expensive properties with rising assessments.
Wacks said the figures supporting it were based on outdated information and he urged the council to wait until the state Department of Assessment and Taxation releases its 1991 figures in December before taking action. "At that time, we will be able to tell you what the impact is going to be," he said.
Anita Iribe, president of the League of Women Voters' local chapter, said her organization shared the frustration of high tax assessments that prompted the legislation, but said the bill would foster inequities in taxes.
Rosemary Mortimer, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, called the measure premature and said it could affect schools "for years, if not generations."
"It may mean that the new schools of which we are in great need may not be able to be built, staffed and stocked," said Mortimer, adding that the PTA voted unanimously against the bill at its Sept. 12 meeting.
Michael Riemer, of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, said his organization opposed the bill because it would hurt renters and business property owners.