The Howard County Council may have a choice of limiting annual increases in property assessments to 5 percent or 10 percent, as a result of a bill filed yesterday by Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.
Ms. Pendergrass initially had filed a bill to limit increases in assessments to 5 percent, but said yesterday that "it would be better for the council to have a choice in light of the county's $17 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year and the slumping economy."
Earlier this fall, Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, had proposed a 5 percent cap, but action was delayed until after the November election. He has reintroduced the measure, and a public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17.
Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget officer, said a 5 percent cap would cost the county about $1.2 million in property tax revenue, which is equivalent to 2 cents on the property tax rate of $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value.
A 10 percent cap, however, would cost the county only $195,000 -- largely because it would affect far fewer properties.
County Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker, also a Republican, has endorsed Mr. Feaga's bill.
Ms. Pendergrass said that she has not decided whether to support a cap of 5 percent or 10 percent, but she added that "it is very important for the council to have an option."
The General Assembly adopted a statewide cap of 10 percent this year and gave local jurisdictions the authority to set lower limits by Jan. 1. To date, eight counties have set limits ranging from zero percent to 10 percent.
Baltimore County set 4 percent; Kent County, 5 percent; Harford County, 6 percent; Calvert County, zero percent; and Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties all set theirs at 10 percent.
Ronald W. Wineholt, associate director with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, said: "No one knows what will happen if the cap is not set by Jan. 1 because there is no provision in the law. I have told counties if they do not set the cap the General Assembly may set one for them."