Stop the bandwagon

September 19, 1990

The proposed assessment cap for Howard County is different than those pending in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, where grass-roots citizens groups have initiated action to put the question to referendum in November. In Howard, the plan comes from Councilman Charles Feaga, who proposes limiting assessment increases to 5 percent a year, but ought to know better.

Certainly, homeowners in Howard County have been burdened with tax increases as the values of their homes skyrocketed. In recent years, assessment hikes have averaged a whopping 15 percent annually. That is, unquestionably, a hard pill for residents to swallow. Still, the tax rate in Howard -- at $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value -- remains enviably low. Moreover, the General Assembly already has provided a modicum of relief by capping assessments statewide at 10 percent this year.

We are certain that this is not sufficient to appease angry homeowners. Nonetheless, there is a larger issue: The state cap alone will substantially reduce the revenue the county might otherwise have expected.

Then there's the new growth-control legislation, which limits building permits and, by implication, revenue too. Add to this the slumping national economy and the looming Linowes Commission report, which well might recommend redistribution of revenue from the wealthier counties to the poorer ones, and simple logic indicates that this is a most inauspicious time to cut off the county's chief means of raising revenue. The Bobo administration is right to urge the council to wait a year, until some vital data is in, before making this decision.

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