In the face of a tax-cap referendum and a recent primary election unforgiving to many incumbents, some Baltimore County Council members have begun to build a defense to the apparent surge of support for tax cuts.
At a work session yesterday, some councilmen suggested that new fire facilities planned for Dundalk, a stronghold of property-tax frustration in Baltimore County, might not be built if the cap passes.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last week that proposals to cap tax-revenue increases at 2 percent in Baltimore County and at 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, which ever is lower, in Anne Arundel County could be approved by voters on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The counties' officials had argued those referendum questions usurped the counties' power to set taxes.
The suggestion that Baltimore County may not be able to afford a $20 million fire academy, fire station and maintenance facility being planned on 26 acres in Sparrows Point that formerly belonged to Bethlehem Steel Corp. is ironic. That southeastern Baltimore County community has fostered the county's strongest anti-tax campaign, that of Democratic council nominee Donald Mason.
Mason favors passage of the 2 percent cap. He has worked for 10 years to advocate that the property tax rate be reduced each year that assessment increases produce additional county revenues. He says that budget cuts can be made without damaging vital county services.
Mason defeated incumbent Dale T. Volz, D-7th, in the Sept. 11 primary, partly by charging that Volz failed to warn constituents that the current Edgemere station might be closed in favor of the Sparrows Point facility. Both are scheduled to be retained now.
Councilman William R. Evans, D-5th, who yesterday said he is opposed to the 2 percent cap, suggested during a council work session that, "If the 2 percent passes, we may not be able to go forward" with the new facilities.
The proposed cap question will appear on the November election ballot along with $200 million worth of bond issues for new schools, roads, bridges and other public facilities.
County Budget Director Fred Homan is preparing a report on the possible effect of a 2 percent cap on the county's long-range capital program, Frank C. Robey Jr., the county administrative officer, told the council.
He advocated council approval Monday night, however, of the $400,000 in architectural and engineering studies for the new $9 million fire maintenance facility and for general site preparation that was on the council's agenda yesterday.
Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, said he wants to highlight the vulnerability of every major project that comes before the council between now and the election to underscore the potential effects of the tax cap. Some officials, including County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, had been reluctant to take a firm stand against the referendum for fear it would gel voter sentiment against them.
"How can we go forward with this project?" Ruppersberger asked of the fire facility. "I don't see it."
County officials have said they believe that limiting revenue increases to 2 percent growth each year will greatly strip the amount of debt the county can carry and could hurt its current Triple A bond rating, resulting in higher interest rates to float bonds.