After months of predicting a proposed tax cap would force drastic cuts in revenues, Anne Arundel County government officials now say the cap may not wreak such havoc after all.
In fact, it may not save homeowners much either -- only about $10 off the average $1,100 property tax bill.
The county's turnabout followed a new interpretation of the cap issued this week by Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer.
The tax proposal would limit the annual growth in property tax revenues to 4.5 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
In an informal opinion, Plymyer said the revenue derived from new buildings should not be taken into account in administering the cap.
If the courts, or the next county administration, are in agreement with Plymyer, then the cap may only shave 2 cents off the property tax rate in its first year, rather than the dime initially projected, county Budget Officer Marita Brown said yesterday.
The loss in potential tax revenues by 1995 would be "considerably less" than the earlier estimate of $118 million, she said.
"The reduction of the property tax rate would be negligible," Brown said. The current rate is $2.46 per $100 of assessed value.
Opponents of the cap have argued that a huge loss in revenues would force deep cuts in government services.
To the surprise of several of his opponents, Robert C. Schaeffer, who led the local tax revolt, agrees with Plymyer.
"I'm not trying to be crazy about this thing," said Schaeffer, who has argued for weeks that the cap would not force deep cuts.
"I guess if you're a fanatic, and property taxes have been driving you crazy, you're going to be disappointed that the amendment won't cut your tax bill in half," Schaeffer said.
Several polls have shown that voters favor the cap, and even its opponents concede that it stands a good chance of being adopted in the Nov. 6 general election.
Plymyer said he believed the cap to be less restrictive than originally thought, based on its mention of the "constant yield tax rate."
That method of determining the tax rate, which is not mentioned in a similar Baltimore County proposal, excludes revenue growth derived from new buildings from the calculation.
Plymyer said the courts or the next county executive ultimately may have to decide how to interpret the measure.
Also, he said, the county has not yet received an opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals explaining its September ruling that the cap is constitutional. That opinion could offer insight into how the cap should be interpreted, Plymyer said.
Schaeffer has complained that county government and tax cap opponents were overstating the amendment's effects in order to scare voters.
Brown, however, said the county's original estimates were based on the tax rebels' stated goals.
Both sides agree that the issue has been confusing.
Initially, Schaeffer said his charter amendment would cut tax bills by 20 percent when it contained a provision reducing the amount of property tax revenue the county could collect to 1988-1989 levels.
Last month, the Court of Appeals removed the rollback provisions from proposed tax amendments in both Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. The court kept language that would cap the future growth of taxes.