As Howard County struggles with a possible $12 million budget shortfall, the County Council chairman is proposing a measure that would allow the county to collect more property tax revenue without raising the tax rate.
C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, plans to introduce an amendment to an assessment cap bill sponsored by County Executive Charles I. Ecker that comes up for a vote tonight.
Ecker's bill would cap property tax assessment increases at 5 percent a year, but Gray's amendment would make the limit 10 percent a year. The councilman will seek to attach it to the Ecker bill at the council's legislative session Monday.
A 10 percent cap would generate $1.2 million more than the 5 percent limit, according to Gray.
Gray, who cast the only vote opposing a 5 percent assessment increase limit in December, said he wants a 10 percent ceiling because the county should reduce assessment limits. Until last year, assessments were capped throughout the state at 15 percent annually. The state cap now is 10 percent, but allows each jurisdiction to impose even lower limits.
The council chairman said the lower cap endorsed by Ecker would provide greater financial benefits to wealthier homeowners.
"We're giving tax credits to owners of $400,000 and $500,000 houses," Gray said.
Ecker, who last year called efforts to reduce the assessment limit as a "truth in taxation" measure, rejected the amendment.
"If we need more money, we ought to raise taxes and not go through the back door and do it automatically," said Ecker, who earlier this year proposed a $2.59 tax rate -- a 14-cent increase. It was approved by the council. "I think we ought to be up-front with people," he said.
Property is evaluated every three years for the purpose of levying taxes.
The owner of a $150,000 house with an assessment that would have risen to $190,000 over a three-year period without a cap would save $223 over three years with a 5 percent limit.
The 5 percent cap was opposed by a number of local organizations last year, including the PTA Council of Howard County, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and the Howard County Citizens Association. Some individual property owners who were wary of higher taxes, however, supported it.
Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, who sponsored legislation last December to set the 5 percent cap, said it would be unfair to allow for greater increases.
"I voted for a 5 percent cap and a 14-cent tax increase last year and that is as high as I'm willing to go," Feaga said.
Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said that he would not support a 10 percent cap, but that there may be some room for compromise. He said he favored capping assessment increases at 6.2 percent, the rate of inflation over the past 20 years.