ANNAPOLIS -- Opponents of a proposal to limit property tax increases in Anne Arundel County offered a new, albeit confusing, argument last night.
The argument, in essence, was this: Vote against the tax cap because it will either cause draconian cuts in county services, or else it will do nothing at all.
"My best current estimate is that this lies somewhere between a useless proposal and something that is very damaging," George C. Shenk, an Annapolis businessman and tax cap opponent, told a vocal audience of about 100 people attending the first public debate of the tax cap, sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Severna Park.
"We don't know what it's going to do," Mr. Shenk said. "That makes it impossible to vote for it."
The confusion was caused by this week's revelation by county officials that the proposal, petitioned for the November ballot by the group, Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, does not cover property taxes raised each year from new construction.
"It's a modest . . . workable amendment" to the County Charter, said Robert C. Schaeffer, a retired U.S. naval officer and president of the petitioning group. "The figure has changed because the county, not us, has told the public different things."
Mr. Schaeffer and other representatives from his group insisted the measure would still cut property taxes but agreed with the county's new interpretation of the tax cap.
Opponents were represented by Mr. Shenk and Robert Kramer, a former state delegate, who represented Fairness for All County Taxpayers, a coalition formed this year to fight the measure.
The proposal would limit growth in property tax revenue to 4.5 percent per year, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Exactly what effect that would have on county finances -- and homeowner tax bills -- has been a subject of considerable debate, and the issue became further confused this week.
County officials, who had projected a $118 million drop in revenue over the next four years if the tax cap passed, now say the limit would have a negligible effect.
David A. Plymyer, deputy county attorney, issued an "informal opinion" earlier this week that suggested the tax proposal, using the state-calculated "constant yield" tax rate as a baseline, allowed an exemption for new construction and improvements.
As a result, the county's budget office estimates a "loss" of about $1.5 million in revenue in the fiscal 1992 budget. That would translate to pennies off the tax rate and as little as a $10 annual savings from the average homeowner's tax bill.