Last Year's Tax Revolt Is This Year's Sleeping Dog

May 19, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Nobody has declared the Anne Arundel tax revolt dead, but it has shown few signs of life during County Council deliberations on the proposed fiscal 1992 budget.

Only three citizens bothered to complain Thursday night at a council hearing on County Executive Robert R. Neall's proposal to keep the property tax rate at $2.46 per $100 of assessed value.

That rate would still be among the lowest in the Baltimore region. But as assessments have risen, it is 19 cents higher than the elusive constant yield, the rate that would produce the same revenue as this year, exclusive of new construction.

Last year, when the Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government sought a 56-cent rollback and permanent cap on property taxes, the constant yield hearing attracted a standing-room-only crowd and dragged on for more than two hours.

The 5-cent cut offered by outgoing executive O. James Lighthizer, a Democrat, was derided as a smoke screen to cover a jump in assessments that added the equivalent of 11 cents to the tax rate.

Lastweek, AATRG -- renamed the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association -- didn't attend the constant yield hearing.

"I could throw myself in front of a locomotive or immolate myself like a Buddhist monk but I seeno profit in that," said AATA president Robert Schaefer, who was elected last year to the county's Republican Central Committee. "We'll try another way and if that doesn't work, we'll go back to the ballot box."

AATRG opponents considered the ballot box their own locomotive last year, when voters rejected the group's charter amendment to limit property tax revenue.

AATA won't have another chance for charter reform until next year. In the meantime, the group will rely on atax-relief commission promised by Neall, a Republican.

Without a property tax debate to divert it last week, the council focused on a $5.6 million package of user fee increases Neall proposed.

A bill debated Thursday would boost the price on everything from licenses for pools and life guards to inspections of restaurants and rental housing.

But the only public comment centered on higher prices for building, mechanical, electrical and plumbing permits.

"We all realize the budget is tight and you have to look for additional sources of income but we do question in a down economy some of the increase in the fees," said Richard Alt, speaking on behalf of Associated Buildersand Contractors. "The construction industry is going to pass them on. . ."

Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, led several council members in upbraiding the administration, saying that Neall violated the charter by not notifying industry advisory groups 60 days before introducing the bill.

Council members Carl Holland, R-Pasadena, Diane Evans, R-Severna Park, and David Boschert, D-Crownsville, all agreed.

"You're penalizing that segment that pays taxes year in andyear out," Holland said. "Why do we have these advisory committees if we're never going to take their advice?"

But assistant county attorney David Bliden said Bachman was misinterpreting the mechanical code section of the charter.

The charter says that any changes in the "mechanical code, interpretation of the code, or administrative procedures" must follow notification of industry members and the Board of Environmental Systems Examiners.

"They do not have the expertise regarding the actual fee structures," said Biden, who drafted the bill. "There's no intent to have the board review the actual fees."

The code also says that notification is required 60 days before implementation, not proposed changes.

Bachman said after the hearing that the code should be changed to require consultation on proposed changes in fees.

Boschert concluded, "We have to take a look at big-ticket items. That's what people want and not nickel and diming."

Council members Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis and Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, pointed out that the alternative to increasing the fees wouldbe to raise the property tax rate in support of Neall's proposed $616.6 million budget.

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