County Executive Charles I. Ecker told members of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday he is "very hopeful" he will not have to increase property taxes this year, but he cannot promise it.
"I take it as morethan a hope," said Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, following Ecker's24-minute state of the county speech to chamber members. "The fact that he said he was not going to raise taxes is very encouraging."
The county property tax is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value, which means that the owner of a $150,000 house pays taxes of about $1,667a year.
Ecker told the 160 people in the audience "there is stilla general feeling against a tax increase." He said one person wrote him that "most people feel that giving money to the government is like giving a case of beer and your car keys to your teen-aged child."
Until he learns how much aid, if any, the state will give the county next year, he cannot answer the property tax question definitively,Ecker said.
He said county revenue is $30 million less this year than when he took office 15 months ago, and that the erosion came despite fee increases that generated $11 million and a property tax increase of 14 cents.
Property taxes will become exorbitant unless thecounty maintains a minimum assessable base that is 20 percent to 30 percent non-residential, Ecker said.
"We cannot rezone non-residential land as residential in a piecemeal manner without keeping the total picture before us," he said.
One of the things he is proudest of, Ecker said, is the way a group of developers, civic leaders, school officials and county employees worked together over the past year to draft the county's adequate facilities legislation.
Ecker hailed the legislation as "an integral part of a comprehensive growth management plan." He scored those who are circulating a petition that, ifsuccessful, would put parts of the ordinance on the ballot for a voter referendum this fall.
"I never thought I'd see the day when theno-growth advocates would be supporting what most of us would see asthe developer-builder position," he said.
Ecker said his top priority for the coming fiscal year is to resolve the Route 100 alignment.
"I am confident we will receive state funds for this if the gasoline tax passes," he said.
Another concern is trash disposal. He is looking to charge residents fees for trash collection and disposal rather than include those services in the property tax. If the CountyCouncil agrees, residents getting curbside trash service would pay $70.72 a year next year, and residents in apartments or town houses that use trash bins would pay $21.84. In the future, the county might look to charging trash fees on a per bag basis, Ecker said.
Ecker told chamber members that in observation of business appreciation week, county employees visited more than 100 companies last week.
One of the top concerns, he said, was the county restriction on signs. Some businesses say their customers can't find them because they can't see their signs. The problem is so bad that one of the county teams couldn't find the company it was supposed to visit, Ecker said.
Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said he thought Ecker's speechoffered a good historical perspective on the county's budget crisis.He agreed that addressing the county's trash disposal problem and building Route 100 are top priorities for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he was disappointed Ecker did not discuss the future state of the economy. Because of decreased property assessments, "the county revenue picture will decline" in the next few months, he said.