Homeowners who think an 8 percent property tax increase is the only dunning they will get from local government next year are in for a mild surprise, as homeowner fees are on the way up.
Included in the proposed $270 million operating budget County Executive Charles I. Ecker sent the County Council is a series of builder and homeowner-related fee hikes. And dozens of bills revising an as yet-unpublished feeschedule were sent to the council Friday for inclusion in the fiscal1992 budget.
The cost of building permits, electrical licenses and electrical permits will go up 25 percent. Developer review and design fees will rise one-half of 1 percent. Engineering specification fees will increase 36 percent.
John Troutman, who is building 117 town houses at Hunter's Hollow off Snowden River Parkway in Columbia, said that although he cannot yet measure the impact of the fee increases, one thingis certain: "The dollars will be passed through" to the consumer.
Speaking hypothetically, Troutman said the price of a $135,000 town house could rise to $137,000 due to fee increases. "It may not be desirable," but it appears to be "the will of government" that Howard County become the "land of the rich," Troutman said.
He does not expect homebuilders to protest the increases because "the administrationhas been fair in spreading the pain around to everyone" --governmentemployees, teachers and taxpayers.
Forty county employees were laid off, and the remainder will have no pay raise. Teachers, who had negotiated a 6 percent raise in their contracts, will not receive the raise unless the County Council restores it to them.
But to do that, the council would have to raise taxes another 17 cents per $100 ofassessed value or cut $8.8 million from the non-schools portion of the budget. It is unlikely that the council will do either.
The austere budget County Executive Charles I. Ecker sent to the council calls for a 14-cent property tax hike above last year's $2.45 per $100 of assessed value. It also increases water and sewer fees.
The owner of a $150,000 home would pay $165 more a year in property taxes andabout $17 more a year for water and sewer service. Ecker intends to raise the water fee 9 cents per 100 cubic feet and the sewer fee 4 cents per 100 cubic feet.
Homeowners would also pay 22 cents a monthmore per line for 911 emergency service, bringing the monthly 911 surcharge to 50 cents. If homeowners want to refinance mortgages, they would pay 14 percent more in recordation taxes. The recordation tax on an $80,000 mortgage, for example, would rise from $352 to $400.
Property owners seeking to escape to the movies or take in live entertainment would find that the tax on such respite is half again as much as it is now. The administration plans to raise amusement taxes from 5 percent to 7.5 percent. If, as appears likely, the council will not increase taxes further, the only alternative is to cut the non-education portion of the budget.
With the exception of education, thecouncil can only accept or cut what the executive proposes. It can restore what the executive cut from the education portion of the budget, but to do so, it must raise taxes or slash other government programs.
There is little to slash. The council is sure to apply to the schools the $1 million that the administration committed to a rainy day fund. It also will look to cut another $500,000 from replacement equipment the administration argues is essential and dip into the $1.5million contingency fund the administration hoped to reserve for emergencies.
To do more would mean more layoffs and a severe loss in services. The cuts are already so deep that council members were offering public sympathy last week to department heads.
Council members told Planning and Zoning chief Joseph W. Rutter Jr., as he concluded his budget testimony last week, that he was doing a "great job" andthat they hoped he'd get some help soon in his office.
They expressed concern that Planning and Zoning suffered the deepest cut of anydepartment -- 19.5 percent -- yet has "a very aggressive agenda for the next year or so": preparing a transportation master plan, rezoning the western portion of the county, implementing an adequate facilities ordinance, and developing new historic districts.
Rutter told the council that his department will have to develop "greater efficiency" to make up for the personnel loss.
Before the meeting, Ruttersaid his department "may not be able to move as aggressively" as he would like to enforce special exception conditions, and may have to be "more selective" about technical assistance it provides on such projects as the U.S. Census and council redistricting, which must be completed before next March.