Talbot County, home to 30,000 Eastern Shore residents, has by far the lowest property tax rate in Maryland. Baltimore City struggles along under its rate of $5.90 per $100 of assessed value. Just about every other county in the state, including Talbot's contiguous neighbors, has a tax rate between $2 and $3. Talbot County's rate? 69 cents.
While getting change back from one's dollar may be a fine marketing campaign for fast-food restaurants, a lot of people in Talbot think it's no way to fund government. The county, a quilt of rural poverty and waterfront gentility, has operated under a tax cap since voters approved one in 1978. A prolonged building boom enlarging the tax base provided ample revenues.
Recession's chill has left Talbot in the cold, however. Its operating budget, shackled by the cap, dropped 14 percent from fiscal year 1990 to 1991, the sharpest decline in the state. Its 1993 capital budget is virtually non-existent. The oddest dichotomy of all is that due to its 400 squiggly miles of waterfront, the county, for its size, has the state's second greatest land wealth, behind only oceanfront Worcester County. Its country inns entice visitors worldwide, its Easton Waterfowl Festival is a key state attraction and St. Michaels' main street is thick with tourist shoppers.