In the wake of a turbulent election with a single mandate -- cut taxes -- the Baltimore County Council and Executive Roger Hayden have officially delivered. With the budget for fiscal year 1991 all but complete, they have cut the property tax rate by 3 cents and streamlined the county's base of operation.
Despite the tax-slashing rhetoric, however, the bottom line is that the average homeowner will pay more in taxes next year than this year. Even with the 4 percent assessment cap in place, the average property tax bill will rise $24. Moreover, the council OK'd Hayden's proposal to increase the cable franchise fee by $1.3 million, which equals 1 cent on the tax rate -- a fee that undoubtedly will be passed on to consumers. Surely an argument can be made that since cable television is not a necessity, the tax cut-cable increase trade-off is a net fiscal gain for homeowners. The reality, however, is another matter. Additionally, if the economy doesn't pick up, Hayden has precious little left to cut, and the administration may be forced to raise taxes next year.
Nonetheless, the budgeting process was successful -- not merely in chopping the tax rate, but also in fostering a new openness which seems a function of the infusion of new blood on the council. For the first time, the council met to openly hash out ideas instead of rubber-stamping proposals. Moreover, they did not succumb to the fiscal radicalism of Councilman Don Mason, which was dismissed as unsound. Baltimore County, now out of the election storm, seems to have found a solid middle ground.