The Howard County Council voted last night to keep a 5 percent cap on annual tax assessment increases after its chairman abandoned his effort to raise more revenue with a higher ceiling.
The cap for fiscal 1993, which begins July 1, was approved 4-1.
After a contentious partisan debate, the council last night also passed two measures that change the boundaries of the five councilmanic districts.
Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, had opposed the 5 percent cap proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, saying it gave tax credits to owners of expensive homes whose property values increase rapidly. Last month, he sponsored an amendment to Ecker's bill to raise the cap to 10 percent.
But last night, Gray said calls to his office from individuals and organizations, including the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and the former president of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, convinced him that most residents supported the 5 percent cap.
Gray also noted that Ecker supported the lower cap on assessment increases, even though it would generate $2 million less in property taxes at a time when the county is facing a projected budget shortfall.
"I assume he can manage with that," Gray said.
Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th, was the only member to vote against the 5 percent cap, which is the current rate and saves more money for homeowners with fast-rising property values than a 10 percent cap would.
In the redistricting battle, the three Democrats passed a new councilmanic district bill that was opposed by the two Republicans. Both measures combine Ellicott City with Elkridge and create a district in the southeastern part of the county.
Council members Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, argued that the measure was confusing and should be tabled. Drown charged that the Democrats were trying to "railroad" the new districts into law.
The Democrats 3-2 margin of victory, however, is not large enough to override an Ecker veto, if one occurs.
As an answer to a possible veto, the council passed a resolution, similarly worded as the measure, to redraw the five districts.
The executive does not have veto power over resolutions. Republicans, however, contend that redistricting cannot be done resolution and say the resolution could face a court challenge if the bill is vetoed.