Neall Appoints Panel To Study County's Property Taxes

4 From Taxpayers Association Named To Commission

July 19, 1991|By Elise Armacost and Paul Shread | Elise Armacost and Paul Shread,Staff writers

The future of Anne Arundel's tax revolt now lies in the hands of a 15-member commission appointed yesterday by County Executive Robert R.Neall.

The commission, created by Neall in return for the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association's promise not to oppose his 1992 budget, includes the association's vocal leader, Robert Schaeffer of Severna Park, and three other members.

Sen. John A. Cade, R-Severna Park, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, will chair the group.

Annapolis attorney John R. Greiber Jr., who defended the AATA's proposed tax cap against a county court challenge last year, was named vice chairman of the commission. Other AATA members on the Property Tax Study Commission areJoseph DiNunno of Annapolis and Wesley Saunders of Crownsville. The association had recommended six members for the commission.

Whether citizens resurrect their effort to place a property tax cap on the ballot depends on what the commission does, Schaeffer said. "We laid off the administration and stopped raising hell to give the administration an opportunity to do something," he said. "It all boils down towhether Neall has appointed a commission that will do something."

Schaeffer had little to say about the makeup of the commission, though he expressed some concern that a school board member, an assistantcounty auditor and the treasurer of the Anne Arundel Trade Council were named to the group.

"If the people on the school board and theothers can reconcile in their hearts to living with less, then we can get along," Schaeffer said.

Besides the AATA representatives, the commission includes:

* Donald P. Carter of Severna Park, executive director of the Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority.

* Ray Dearchs of Baltimore, assistant county auditor.

* Wylie L. Donaldson of Odenton, a member of the Odenton Improvement Association and a telecommunications manager for the U.S. Department of Defense.

* Paul Greksa of Odenton, a school board member and retired county Public Works and Budget Office employee.

* Frank Halgas of Pasadena, vice president of Micro-Lambda Distributors, Inc., and president of the North Shore Association.

* John R. Hammond ofAnnapolis, a 14-year alderman and chairman of the City Council Finance Committee.

* Joel Mostrom, president of Curtis F. Peterson landdevelopment company and treasurer of the Anne Arundel Trade Council.

* Joyce Philip of Crofton, director of employee relations at AnneArundel Medical Center.

* Bennett Shaver of Arnold, chairman of the county Spending Affordability Committee and retired executive director of the Maryland State Retirement System.

* Ray Turner of Annapolis, professor of economics at Anne Arundel Community College.

The commission will begin meeting July 29 and will report to Neall by Dec. 1, in time to influence next year's budget process.

Because of the deal that created the property tax commission, Schaeffer has faced criticism that he is becoming too close to Neall for the AATA to remain effective. Last month, Neall agreed to pay the group $20,000 to cover the legal fees it incurred defending its proposed tax cap in court.

But Schaeffer, a member of the county Republican Central Committee, said he has met Neall only four times -- never one-on-one --and the two have never spoken over the phone.

"Our closeness can be summed up in those four meetings," Schaeffer said. "Our supposed sinister collusion is non-existent."

Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said, "I wouldn't call them close. I would say they have a cordial relationship. . . It makes good sense to do this. (Neall) is anxious for them to look closely at county government so they can understand the other side. If they think they can cut taxes without reducing essential services, (Neall's) all for it."

Neall's appointment of thecommission coincides with the publication of a report saying Anne Arundel County collects the seventh highest property taxes per residentin the nation.

City & State magazine of Chicago published the annual study this week, based on the 50 counties that collect the most revenue. Anne Arundel County, which ranked 47th in population, collected $490 per resident in 1991. The county also ranked in the top 10 ineducation and public safety spending per resident.

The top eight property-tax collection counties were all in Maryland and Virginia, states that require counties to pay for education. Other states have separate taxing districts for education. Education accounts for more than half of the county's budget.

"City & State has a history of doing simplistic polls," Hayman said. "It's very easy to say all counties look absolutely equal, but that's not the case. You have to look at the tax structures in each county."

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