Anti-tax faction warns council to lower property rate Members must heed voters or face their wrath, says Schaeffer

May 20, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff Writer

The leader of Anne Arundel's anti-tax movement promised County Council members Monday that they soon "will be gone . . . like the dinosaurs" if they don't reduce property taxes.

The message of Robert Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, was far different from the comments the council has heard from many other citizens during public hearings on County Executive Robert R. Neall's proposed $634 million fiscal 1993 budget. Hundreds of people showed up last week begging for more money for schools, for the restoration of cuts to programs for women and juveniles, and for the salvation of county workers.

Accompanied by four other tax protesters, Schaeffer told council members they should ignore public employees, unions and special-interest groups and listen instead to their "real constituents," the taxpayers.

Schaeffer and his supporters were speaking at the annual state-mandated hearing on the constant yield property tax rate. The constant yield is the tax rate needed to produce the same amount of revenue in the coming year as was produced in the previous year. The county's constant yield rate is $2.27 per $100 of assessed value.

Neall's budget maintains the current tax rate of $2.46. Lowering the tax rate to meet the constant yield would require a $20 million reduction in Neall's proposed budget, county officials said.

The council, which will set the tax rate May 29, has not decided whether the rate will remain stable, said Council Chairman David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat. "We are listening to the taxpayer," he said.

They'd better, said tax protesters.

"Sometimes you people need to remember who you're working for," said Bob Hawxhurst of Fairhaven. Despite the large turnout from citizens seeking more money for government programs, "Budgets such as this do not represent the feelings of the majority of people," he said.

Hawxhurst, who has lived in the county since the 1960s, said he came to the council for the first time Monday because of anger over his property tax bill.

"Mr. Schaeffer is saying it straight when he says we will remember" what council members have done about taxes come Election Day, he said.

AATA would have been happy with a 5-cent cut in the property tax, Schaeffer said after the hearing. If Neall had opted for a $5 million rainy day fund, instead of $10 million, and given the difference back to the taxpayer, tax protest leaders probably would have abandoned plans to put a tax cap on the ballot this November, he said.

AATA is collecting signatures to put the measure on the ballot as a charter amendment, along with an amendment to limit council members to two four-year terms.

To the disgust of tax rebels, reliance on the property tax continues to grow. Property taxes account for 42 percent of Neall's new budget, up 3 percent from last year. Although the rate remains stable, the average homeowner will pay about $100 more because of increased assessments.

"You are on your way to funding nearly half of all county services on the backs of the property owner," Schaeffer said.

Although they delayed a vote on Neall's plan to expand property tax credits for the county's neediest homeowners, council members generally support the idea.

Neall has proposed spending $1.8 million on the credits for families with incomes under $33,500. The credits would be financed by increases in licensing and permit fees for everything from pet grooming parlors to auctioneers to trade licenses.

Some council members said they are uncomfortable with the fact that the homeowners credit bill is contingent on the bill to increase the fees.

Former Councilwoman Carole Baker encouraged the council to pass the tax credit bill. "It's truly fair targeted tax relief, much fairer than the tax caps that have been proposed," she said, referring to Schaeffer, whom she frequently criticized while in office.

In other action, the council approved a resolution banning smoking in County Council areas and offices and approved temporary regulations governing the operation of rubble landfills. Permanent legislation has been delayed after a Harford County court ruling forced the council to abandon plans for daily county inspections of rubble landfills.

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