Howard budget plan would keep tax rate the same Ecker will propose $270 million spending plan. 'Wrong time" for increase, he says.

April 21, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, saying "it is the wrong time to propose a tax increase," has sent a $270.2 million spending plan to the County Council that keeps property tax and local income tax rates the same as this year.

The property tax rate is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a home assessed at $150,000, for example, would pay property taxes of $1,663.

The so-called piggyback tax rate, the percentage of state income taxes collected for local use, remains 50 percent. It could have been raised to 60 percent.

"It is the wrong time to propose an increase in taxes," Mr. Ecker said yesterday. "Many Howard Countians are living on fixed incomes. Many are out of work. Many are young people just starting out, who, in my opinion, cannot afford to pay more taxes. The state has already increased our tax burden. We must make do with what we have."

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat and president of the Maryland Association of Counties, praised the General Assembly, saying the tax increases it enacted in a special session helped underwrite state aid to counties.

"This is about the best we could hope for, given the situation of the last couple of years," Mr. Gray said. "I agree with schools and public safety as priorities [in the proposed budget], but had hoped there would be a more significant increase in the human services area. That office is understaffed and has increased demands."

For fiscal 1993, which begins July 1, Mr. Ecker has proposed increasing spending for human services 3 percent over fiscal 1992.

Councilman Darrel Drown, a 2nd District Republican, said Mr. Ecker's proposed budget shows the county "really did bite the bullet" last year, and as a result put the county in better shape.

"I'm ecstatic that we have held the property tax rate, fire taxes and the piggyback tax at the exact same level," Mr. Drown said. "It is a crucial indication that we have held our own and are doing our job."

The proposed budget is $100,000 less than that adopted in fiscal 1992, but $14 million more than the county actually received, due to cuts in state aid.

Although Mr. Ecker could not guarantee the budget would not be reduced as it was in fiscal 1992, the proposal is conservative enough to make the possibility unlikely, he said.

Nearly 60 percent of the proposed fiscal 1993 budget is taken up with education expenses -- $149.6 million allotted to the Board of Education and $8.6 million set aside for Howard Community College. That amount does not include about $4 million to $5 million the board is expected to receive in state aid.

Even without those dollars, the public school portion of the budget will maintain current class sizes and provide for additional personnel needed to open two new schools, Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Ecker chose not to determine how the board should spend its money, and he urged the County Council to follow his example.

The non-education portion of the budget includes $4 million for trash collection and a curbside-recycling program that includes 7,000 more homes, $2.3 million to repair and resurface roads, and $200,000 for tourism.

Money was also included to stock new libraries in east Columbia and Elkridge and to support a police cadet class of 18 new recruits, beginning Jan. 1.

Although Mr. Ecker did not raise taxes, he did increase water and sewer fees 12 percent.

The proposed budget also includes 18 new fees levied on developers and builders. Despite the increases, the county expects to collect less in fees than last year because of the recession, Mr. Ecker said.

The spending plan includes a 2.5 percent raise for non-school-system employees whose work is rated satisfactory by their supervisors. The raises will take effect on the anniversary of each worker's employment.

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