Baltimore County's tax cap was praised and defiled last night, as an architect of the measure sparred with one of its chief critics at a voters forum in Randallstown.
John O'Neill Sr., a leader of Citizens for Representative Government, the group that has led efforts to have the tax cap put on the ballot, argued that the measure was an effective way to control runaway government spending.
"We don't think it's an excessive cap, given the excessive growth in the number of county employees," Mr. O'Neill told roughly 100 people at Randallstown High School.
The work force grew by almost 1,000 employees -- or 14 percent -- in the past four years, while the population grew by only 2 percent, according to county estimates.
Fred Homan, the county budget director, countered that two-thirds of those new employees were hired in the police and fire departments or by health and human services to beef up essential county services.
Mr. Homan added that county spending has increased by only 3.9 percent in the past year, well below the 5 percent rate of inflation reported in January.
The tax cap, if approved by voters next month, would restrict increases in county property tax revenues to 2 percent a year.
Mr. Homan and Mr. O'Neill agreed last night that the tax cap would allow for only $7 million more in property taxes to be collected next year.
Mr. Homan said the county would lose $20.3 million in property tax revenues because of revenues that will not be collected. But Mr. O'Neill said that the budget projections were exaggerated and that the loss would total about $11 million.
"That's not much in an $1.1 billion budget," he said.
County officials have said that while the 2 percent cap will translate into a 15-cent cut in the tax rate, currently $2.89 per $100 of assessed value, it also may mean cuts in services.
Possibilities often cited are shortened library hours, fewer programs for seniors, deteriorating roads and recreation facilities, and larger class sizes in the schools.
Last night's session, sponsored by the Alliance of Baltimore County Community Councils Inc., included a 25-minute forum for Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen and Roger Hayden, the Republican challenger in the Nov. 6 election.
In that session, attended by about 200 people, Mr. Hayden criticized Mr. Rasmussen for not responding to taxpayer concerns about excessive government spending. The county executive said he had taken several steps to limit spending in his four years in office.