Tax rate to drop, fees to increase in Baltimore Co.

May 31, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Baltimore County residents will pay more for telephone service, sewer fees, cable television and building permits and will face steeper parking fines, as part of a budget adopted yesterday by the County Council.

The council unanimously adopted a $1.34 billion budget that calls for a property tax rate of $2.865 per $100 of assessed value, a 3-cent cut from the current $2.895. But because of rising assessments, the tax bill for the average $100,000 house will increase $24 to roughly $1,143, officials said.

Homeowners also will see part of the additional $16.60 in annual sewer service charges on their July tax bills and a 20-cent increase, to 50 cents, in the monthly fee for telephone service, to help cover costs for 911 emergency service.

There also will be a 30 percent increase in parking fines, expected to net the county an additional $416,000 annually, and steep filing fees for those who apply for zoning changes, expected to bring in $749,000.

Fees will rise from $75 to $100 for anyone planning to build a house and from $185 to $240 for building permits necessary to construct certain types of commercial structures.

Library fines for overdue books have been increased from 13 cents to 15 cents a day and library video rentals increased from $1.05 to $1.50 per day, according to Charles Robinson, director of the county library system.

He said increases were put into effect two months ago because the library board of trustees anticipated a continuation of the trend toward lean county spending.

"We haven't had an increase in book-buying money in three years," he said.

Perhaps the most controversial fee increase was the amount charged the county's cable television franchisee, Comcast Cable, from 3 percentto 5 percent. The cable increase will mean a $1.4 million rise in the franchise fee assessed Comcast.

Company officials said the change will translate into a $1 per month increase for most of the 155,000 subscribers in Baltimore County, county officials said.

Robert Gunther, a Comcast spokesman, said subscribers would see the increase in their July bills. "I don't want people to think it's a rate increase," Mr. Gunther said. "It's not, it's a county tax."

The council, which initially passed the cable increase yesterday by a 4-3 vote, was forced to meet in a special session two hours later to vote a second time because county law requires a five-vote approval for the measure to take effect by July 1, said Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th.

On the second vote, the measure passed 6-1.

Council members Donald Mason, D-7th, and William A. Howard IV, R-6th, agreed to switch and vote for measure, saying that to vote against it would mean an unbalanced budget and a violation of the charter.

"We had a choice: We could either vote for the fee or break the law. We knew that one was the lesser of two evils," Mr. Howard said.

Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, remained opposed, saying that County Executive Roger B. Hayden should have submitted the cable fee increase to the council long before the budget -- and should not have made his budget hinge on it.

Other members of council agreed.

"The council urges the executive in the future to provide more public notice and time for discussion before submitting such fees or fee increases to the council," Chairman Riley wrote in a 19-page statement that was part of council's budget message.

The council managed to trim $1.6 million from Mr. Hayden's budget -- the equivalent of 1 cent on the tax rate -- thereby adding another cent to the 2-cent tax rate reduction proposed by Mr. Hayden on April 16.

They did so by trimming $600,000 from the $1.2 million budgeted for snow removal and another $500,000 in cost estimates for fuel oil, gas and electricity.

The remaining $500,000 came from reducing costs associated with the county's self-insurance program. Council auditors said Mr. Hayden had understated the income to be generated by self-insurance investments by that amount.

School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, whose budget was left largely intact by the council, praised the seven-member group for its effort.

"This is by far the most amiable budget session that I can remember," he said. "They didn't cut a position, they didn't cut equipment, they didn't cut anything that would affect the child in the classroom."

But leaders of taxpayer groups anxious to cut government spending were not so pleased.

"There are 20,000 employees working in Baltimore County, and you mean to tell me they couldn't cut a single position?" said John O'Neill Sr., a leader in the county property taxpayer protest movement who serves as an unpaid aide to Mr. Mason.

The budget includes money for a previously approved 5.8 percent pay raise for the seven council members, from $30,900 to $32,700, to take effect in December.

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