Neall tries to honor the tax cap Voters would get expected relief

December 03, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall unveiled yesterday a plan that he says will give homeowners the tax relief they expected when they voted in November for a cap on the county's property tax revenue.

Mr. Neall said he would limit to 4 percent the amount of assessment increase on which homeowners can be taxed, going a step further than a state program that holds assessment increases at 10 percent.

"This is an attempt to adhere as closely as possible to what the people thought they were getting," Mr. Neall said at a noon press conference at the Arundel Center. "It's actually superior to the tax cap, and it gives the targeted aid in a more focused fashion."

The tax cap, which was approved overwhelmingly by more than 70 percent of the voters in the Nov. 3 election, limits the increase in total property tax revenue that the county can collect each year to the rate of inflation or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

But that would not necessarily reduce individual tax bills, which are based on assessed values, if assessments go up, Mr. Neall said.

He said that nearly all the voters he has spoken with since the election thought they were voting to reduce their individual tax bills.

"That's what everybody I talked to, including some very prominent people in the community, that's what they thought they were getting," Mr. Neall said.

But because of assessment increases, some homeowners could have seen their bills increase by as much as 6 percent, even with the property tax rate lowered to keep the county's revenues under the limit.

His proposal to limit the assessment increases and cut the property tax rate 5 cents to $2.41 would mean no tax bill would increase more than 2 percent and some would drop by that figure, he explained.

Mr. Neall said he can make the change in assessment limits because the state law allows local jurisdictions some flexibility as long as they don't exceed the 10 percent limit.

Council Chairman David G. Boschert, who joined Mr. Neall at the press conference, supported the proposal, which must be approved by the council.

"We want to make it right," Mr. Boschert said. "It was [the voters'] intention to state emphatically that they wanted some -- tax relief."

Originally, county officials planned to keep the revenue below the designated cap by lowering the tax rate by 9 cents, from $2.46 to $2.37. Under the new plan, however, the tax rate would drop only by 5 cents, to $2.41.

Under Mr. Neall's proposed legislation, which is to be sent to the council Monday night, any homeowner whose tax bill would have increased faster than the current 3 percent rate of inflation -- nearly two-thirds of those in the county -- would benefit.

For example, a house assessed at $50,000 this year, would have an assessed value of $55,000 next year if its assessment increased the full 10 percent allowed by state law.

With the lower $2.37 tax rate caused by the tax cap, that homeowner's tax bill would increase 6 percent, or $73.

Under Mr. Neall's 4 percent assessment cap, the assessed value would increase only to $52,000 and the tax bill would go up $23 instead of $73.

Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association and author of the tax cap, said he welcomed Mr. Neall's proposal, but questioned why it took him two years into his term to do it.

"I think he heard the message from the homeowners, and it sounds like he's trying to work something out. I don't have any criticism, that's what he was elected to do," Mr. Schaeffer said. "It's not until we forced him to do it that they're coming up with ideas to do it."

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