County Ponders Options To Replace Lost State Money

October 06, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Harford residents and property owners could see higher property tax assessments next year, higher permit and license fees and higher penalties for violating permits or licenses.

Those measures are under serious consideration by county officials struggling to find ways to make up for the nearly $4 million in state aid cut last week under Gov. William Donald Schaefer's state budget deficit-reduction plan.

Larry Klimovitz, director of administration, said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann began to examine the three revenue measures after deciding not to seek a property tax rate increase next year as a way to reduce the blow to Harford's coffers.

Property taxes make up 40 percent of the county's total operating budget, so the revenue measure gaining the most support so far is the idea to raise the property tax assessment cap to 10 percent, up from 6 percent.

John Scotten, deputy county treasurer, said that by raising cap to 10 percent, Harford would net $731,000 in new revenue in fiscal 1993, which ends June 30, 1993.

The following year, Harford would make $1 million ifit remained at 10 percent.

For example, based on the average saleprice of $120,000 for a home in the county, Scotten calculated that with an 11 percent growth in the property tax assessment and no tax assessment cap, the average homeowner could expect to pay about $1,455in property taxes in fiscal 1994, which ends June 30, 1994.

With a 10 percent cap, the same homeowner could expect to pay $1,441, Scotten said.

Under a 6 percent cap, the average tax bill would likelybe $1,389, he said.

"As the size of the tax assessment cap increases, the closer you are to the actual growth rate," Scotten said.

Klimovitz said county administrators are considering raising permit and license penalties because those fees have not been increased in more than 10 years.

"Penalty fees also haven't gone up in 11 years,"said Klimovitz. "A building permit violation is $25, but a lot of developers just thumb their noses at that. So we're also looking at raising penalties."

State financial aid was cut from nine key areas of county services, including: education, critical area grants, money for local health programs and the county's share of state taxes on beer and tobacco taxes and reimbursement for giving property tax credits.

The good news is that until additional income can be tapped, Harford is in better financial shape to handle the cuts than most othercounties, said Klimovitz.

"Many counties have not taken the stepswe did -- freezing wages and salaries, imposing a hiring freeze, setting aside a fund balance to create a financial cushion," said Klimovitz.

Rehrmann has abolished five positions and created one new one-- director of community services -- since she took office in January, said Randy Schultz, county personnel director. Abolishing the five positions saved the county $166,487, Schultz said.

Schultz said that by not filling 30 vacancies on the payroll, Harford will save $1 million this year.

Another reason Harford is better off than other counties is that Harford settled on a $140 million operating budget this year -- $8 million, or 4 percent, less than what the county spentlast year -- argued Klimovitz.

"Abandoning pay-as-you-go projectsor deferring them and selling bonds to pay for other projects combined with countywide cutbacks have left us with an unaudited fund balance of $9.8 million," said Klimovitz.

Rehrmann said last week, however, that despite the leftover money, she would not consider giving mid-year salary adjustments for fear of further state cuts. "I think people would rather have the comfort of knowing they'll have a job than a raise," said Rehrmann.

"Those savings will not be repeated -- it's one-time income. We won't see that income again next year. We donot want to be in a position to not be able to give step increases next year when the money isn't available or to have to resort to layoffs to meet those promised increases."

Jeffrey D. Wilson, County Council president, has said he would support raising the tax assessmentcap to 10 percent and other income-generating measures -- with one provision.

"For my part, I think it would be very hard to justify some of these fee increases until we have made the commitment to honorstep increases in our pay plan," Wilson said.

However, county administrators pointed out that $4 million of the $9.8 million in unspent cash in the county budget has already been set aside to absorb state cuts.

"So far, it looks like we can survive this year, but if there is a second or third round of cuts, you're looking at a differentstory," said Jewell, the county treasurer.

"Further cuts will hithome fast" if there is no way to generate new income, he added.

The $5.8 million remaining in the budget will go unused so the county can maintain its good bond rating, Klimovitz said. "If we can do something for employees, we will, but our priority is getting through therecession with no reduction in services and with no layoffs. Right now, there's nobody saying we're going to climb out of this hole any time soon."


* $743,000 -- Subdivision grants to keep property taxes down

* $189,000 -- County portion ofshared taxes (tobacco, alcohol)

* $260,000 -- Property tax credits

* $11,000 -- Critical area grants to planning and zoning dept.

* $490,371 -- Money for local health programs

* $394,000 -- Police aid

* $40,000 -- Fire/rescue/ambulance aid

* $96,000 -- Aid to education programs

* $1,456,000 -- Aid to Harford Community College

TOTAL: $3,679,371

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.