The County Council voted 7-0 Monday to cap growth in individual property assessments at 10 percent, despite much debate and one member's complaint that the administration bill is a "farce" that brings no relief to taxpayers.
The measure represents the first property tax reform to come before the new council, which includes four freshman members elected last month.
"Just what kind of tax relief are we giving the county?" asked new Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Glen Burnie.
Acting county Budget Officer Steven Welkos said the measure would bring about $525,000 worth of tax relief to 27,000 homeowners in 1991 and another $2.3 million to the rest of the county the next year.
But Middlebrooks complained that the Neall administration's first bill did nothing more than rubber-stamp the minimum level of tax relief already provided by the state General Assembly.
The legislature lowered the statewide cap from 15 percent to 10 percent this year and gave counties the right to set even lower limits. Howard County passed a 5 percent cap Monday and Baltimore and Baltimore County have adopted 4 percent caps. Carroll, Prince George's and Montgomery counties all have 10 percent limits.
The county needs the flexibility of a 10 percent cap to help preserve its budget surplus, Welkos said.
If the cap is set lower, "you may be confronted with a decision to either keep the (property tax) rate the same or increase it or cut spending more," he said.
Baltimore City and the state's other large counties are cutting current spending to make up for budget deficits.
Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville, defended the 10 percent cap as a way for the county to hedge its bets against state aid.
"If we start lowering now, that might send a message that Anne Arundel County doesn't need certain funds," he said.
Councilwomen Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, and Diane Evans, R-Severna Park, both said that the council will have another chance to help homeowners when it sets the property tax rate in May. County Executive Robert R. Neall has pledged to limit property revenue growth at 5 percent, promising to lower the tax rate if necessary.
Middlebrooks argued that the cap should be set at 5 percent and he suggested that the council add a special session to meet the Jan. 1 deadline to set the limit.