Five percent cap on assessments weighed

November 24, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A 5 percent cap on personal property assessments would cost Howard County $2.2 million -- about 4 cents on the property tax rate, County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said last night.

Despite an impending shortfall of at least $20 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Mr. Wacks urged the County Council to pass the assessment cap.

"If there are to be relatively large increases in revenue, they will have to be done through the tax rate" rather than through increased assessments, Mr. Wacks said. The property tax rate is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

"Now more than ever it is essential to keep the 5 percent cap," said Patrick Dornan of Columbia, president of a group called the Howard County Taxpayers Association.

Mr. Dornan used the assessment cap bill as an opportunity to lambaste the Board of Education for proposing a 10 percent salary increase for Superintendent Michael Hickey.

"We should be demanding better management from the Board of Education," he said. With fire tax increases "a virtual certainty and tax-and-spend addicts controlling Congress and the White House, a tax cap measure on the ballot similar to the one that passed in Anne Arundel County is not beyond reality," he said.

Ridgely Jones of Sykesville told the council he favors the assessment cap because it would force the council to raise the property tax rate, if necessary, to generate increased revenues. "People understand direct tax increases" better than indirect increases, he said. "They don't have any difficulty with that," he said. A direct tax increase "puts you people on the spot. You're the people who ought to be put on the spot."

A bill to provide property tax rebates to religious institutions that rent rather than own facilities also received favorable comment last night.

"The administration of [County Executive Charles I. Ecker] views this as a matter of equity," Mr. Wacks said. The bill would offer the same tax break to renters that the county provides to religious groups that own property.

Passage of the bill would not be a burden, Mr. Wacks said, because fewer than six religious groups would be affected. Income lost as a result of the bill would be less than $10,000, he said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, objected that the bill was limited to religious institutions. "This is a policy issue," he said. "I have a problem that [the bill] does not include other non-profits. I think they serve more of a public purpose than religious groups."

The county also heard testimony last night about proposed new subdivision regulations. "People need to understand that the subdivision regulations are companion legislation to the zoning regulations," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning. Ms. McLaughlin told the council there are three main areas of revision: more emphasis on historic structures and burial grounds, requiring more open space for environmental protection and recreational use, and requiring developers to do landscape buffering.

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