Dundalk's Tax Rebels

November 01, 1990

These are days of great expectation in Dundalk, home of Baltimore County's tax revolt. On Nov. 6, that gritty industrial town and Democratic stronghold likely will put a tax rebel on the county council, endorse a 2 percent cap on property-tax revenue and back a Republican for county executive.

The blue-collar community has been fuming about high taxes since 1964. In that year, the Dundalk Jaycees organized a statewide petition drive against Gov. J. Millard Tawes' decision to raise the income tax rate. The drive was so successful the governor canceled the increase.

Nevertheless, taxes kept going up. Eleven years ago, Donald Mason had had enough. He organized another protest movement which now seems likely to catapult the 64-year-old retired Bethlehem Steel rodman into the county council.

"These are people who work for a living and live within their means and expect others to live within their means. Being industrial workers, they always had to be prepared for a strike or layoffs," said Thomas Toporovich, co-chairman of the 1964 Jaycee effort, of Dundalk residents' attitude.

Thurman Roberts has attended monthly taxpayers' protest meetings for a decade. "When you go to Towson, you don't get proper answers. They put out information that's good to read but is not true," he complains of the county bureaucracy. A retired Bethlehem worker, he lives in a Logan Village row house he bought for $8,300 in 1951. His property tax bill is more than $800, which upsets him. "Every ten years I have to pay as much in property taxes as I paid for my house," he gripes.

This is the type of argument that sustains the protest movement. While tax experts in Towson talk in abstractions, the protesters have reduced their arguments to the simplest of terms that everyone can understand. Baltimore County's current property tax rate is evidence of high spending and government deception, they say. Their answer: Cut spending and cut taxes.

We understand the protesters' concern about burdensome taxes and big government. But we believe they seriously ignore the disruptions a 2 percent tax cap would cause in Dundalk and the rest of Baltimore County. Public services are not free. Unless someone pays for them, they have to be cut. It's as simple as that.

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