In the wake of a 14-cent property tax increase, the Howard County executive said yesterday that he wants General Assembly authority to impose nuisance taxes on lodging, telephone and utility bills to reduce the county's property tax rate.
Charles I. Ecker, the Republican executive, said he has been "testing the water" for support in the county's legislative delegation for enabling legislation to set the taxes.
But the chairman of the county's House delegation said the Ecker proposal was unlikely to succeed, and the president of the county teachers association said the executive should earmark any new revenue for education.
Mr. Ecker said it was "too early to tell how much support there is." He failed to win a 5 percent tax on hotel-motel bills last year when two of the three state senators representing the county refused to support it.
Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, chairman of the House delegation, said the vote last year on the lodging tax "went along party lines, with Democrats opposing it in
an effort to embarrass the county executive. Unfortunately, I don't think we can get to first base on it, although I appreciate Chuck's efforts to keep the property tax rate down."
The two Democrats in the county's three-member state Senate delegation, Sens. Thomas M. Yeager and Charles H. Smelser, voted against last year's proposal. Mr. Smelser said he wouldn't take a position on the new initiative until Mr. Ecker tells him "why the additional taxes are needed." Mr. Yeager could not be reached for comment.
A fiscal conservative, Mr. Ecker said he received "a lot of complaints" when the local government approved a $2.59 property tax rate for the current fiscal year, leaving Howard with the third highest property tax rate in Maryland.
If the county had authority to impose the nuisance taxes, it could expect to raise more than $3 million a year, enough to trim 6 cents to 8 cents off the tax rate, said Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget officer.
Already stung by Mr. Ecker's decision to eliminate teacher raises during a financial downturn, Jim Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, called Mr. Ecker's latest proposal to reduce the tax rate "absurd and incompetent."
"The county government has a re sponsibility to pay those persons who serve and teach the children. By advocating such a position, Chuck Ecker will put the county into total chaos and the quality of education will become totally endangered," he said.
Mr. Ecker, a retired deputy county superintendent of schools, said the county "cannot continue to do business like we did in the past. In the long run, we have to tighten our belts to avoid a more severe revenue problem. Education is very important, but so is the financial health of the county. I am concerned that a potential tax revolt would put severe limits on spending that could hurt education and other services."