WESTMINSTER — Home-owning seniors in the city could receive a property tax break next year if a mayoral proposal is approved by the City Council and the Maryland General Assembly.
Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, seeking to help the elderly stay in their own homes, suggested that the city freeze seniors' tax assessments at their property's worth upon application for the program.
When assessments are raised, the difference would be recorded in a separate account and charged interest. The difference, plus interest, would be paid when the property changes hands.
"I want to relieve the elderly homeowner of anxiety over increased assessments," Brown said. "Many elderly homeowners are afraid they will not be able to stay in their own homes."
However, Brown and the council cannot grant the tax break on their own, because state law does not allow municipalities to grant a tax cut. Brown has asked Carroll's delegation to introduce the legislation in the General Assembly.
"I agree wholeheartedly with the idea," said Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll. "Seniors don't have the earning capacity, and the rapid growth ofpeople moving into Carroll County is causing assessments to go up. I'm glad somebody thought of something."
The proposal is constitutional under uniform tax laws, because the tax eventually would be paid, said Robert Young, associate director of the Maryland Department ofAssessment and Taxation.
"The taxes are simply deferred," he said. "It satisfies the uniformity law, since the property is still beingassessed at the same rate."
The proposal differs from the "circuit-breaker," adopted statewide, which limits property tax liability toa certain percentage of income.
"If a person makes $10,000 a year, the state formula says they only pay $210 in taxes," Young said. "One out of every 11 citizens gets a tax break, and 78 percent of thoseare age 60 or over."
Montgomery County offers both a circuit breaker and the deferred taxes for seniors, Young said.
In other city news:
* Tomorrow, council members will discuss creating additionalpolling places at the next election.
The former council rejected the idea last year, saying it was a frivolous political activity. Brown said he still believes the single location at the fire hall is inadequate to deal with the city's 4,875 eligible voters, many of whom live at the north end of town.
Brown said there is enough support in the current council to carry the motion.
"A lot of people don't want to have any part of going downtown and trying to find a parking space after a day at work," he said.
"Part of the government's responsibility is to make voting convenient and feasible."
* Brown also said he is a part of the three-member negotiating committee dealing with Prestige Cable's request to extend its franchise and to take back five of the channels previously reserved for community access.
The mayor said citizens with comments about Prestige should contact Hampstead Town Manager John Riley, County Attorney Charles W. Thompson or himself.