Property tax cut expected

May 01, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall will propose a 3-cent cut in the property tax rate, but increases in trash collection and utility fees tomorrow as he presents what likely will be his final budget to the County Council.

The rate, held down by a cap on the county's property tax revenue, will go from $2.38 per $100 of assessed value to $2.35 to finance a $711 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to government sources and documents already available.

Even with the drop in the tax rate, the average property tax bill will increase by about $26, to $1,317, because of increased assessments.

As he has consistently promised, Mr. Neall will not raise the piggyback income tax of 50 percent of state income tax, but taxpayers will see increases in other areas.

Water and sewer rates will rise 3.5 percent, increasing the average homeowner's bill by $14.24 to $420.20 a year. And the fee for trash collection will go up $28 to $158.

Taken together, the increases for property taxes, water and sewer and trash collection mean an average homeowner will pay the county $68 more a year.

The budget includes 4 percent raises for county employees, 12 new police officers and 128 additional school employees, including 31 teachers.

Paying for the raises will cost $27 million, the largest additional expenditure in the proposal.

Mr. Neall, whose term ends this year and who is not now seeking re-election, will officially present the budget to the council at 11 a.m. tomorrow. The council, which will begin daily deliberations afterward, can cut -- but not increase -- the executive's proposal in all departments except education. It must finalize the budget by May 31.

It is unlikely Mr. Neall's operating budget will stir much controversy because there is little discretionary spending. More than half of the $47 million increase in operating funds will be eaten up by the pay raise.

Money for the county's self-insurance fund, debt service and employee salary step increases account for most of the rest.

County auditor Joseph H. Novotny, whose recommendations have taken a scalpel to past budgets, said it appears tight money and good planning will leave him with less to do.

"I think the operating budget will speak for itself. I don't think there will be much to do with that," he said. "It might be boring for me. I was looking for some excitement."

But in an election year, it is possible the council could try to lower the tax rate even more. Three members are being forced out of office by term limits and running for other offices. The remaining four are expected to run for re-election.

Last year, Mr. Neall proposed lowering the tax rate 4 cents, and the council dropped it 4 cents more. But Councilman David G. Boschert, who was an early proponent last year of dropping the rate as low as possible, said he would not support such a move this year.

"I think last year was the year to do it," said Mr. Boschert, who is one of the three being forced off the council. He has announced his candidacy for the House of Delegates. "It was not a political gimmick. It was not an election year."

A more likely arena for political jockeying is the nearly $100 million capital budget, a source of building projects for council members to take back to their districts.

Two major projects -- a new jail in Glen Burnie and a new courthouse in Annapolis -- most likely will receive careful scrutiny.

Although the plan to approve $1.2 million to match state money )) to plan a new jail in Glen Burnie and a major renovation of the jail in Annapolis has the four votes to pass, the north county contingent is sure to challenge it at every opportunity.

And the proposed $55 million circuit courthouse on Church Circle in Annapolis is going to provoke discussion, just because of its size. Mr. Neall has appropriated $24 million to begin planning and construction.

"I believe the cost of the courthouse is too high," said Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum. If the county could come up with a less expensive design, "I think we could take the rest of the funding and put it into education."

Mr. Neall's capital budget proposal also includes:

* $9.5 million for construction of Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Park.

* $7.5 million for a fine arts building at Anne Arundel Community College.

* $6.5 million to replenish the account for the conversion of the former Andover High School building in Linthicum to a middle school. Money was borrowed this year from that account to pay for construction of Solley Area Elementary School.

* $6 million for renovations to South Shore Elementary School in Crownsville.

* $4 million for road resurfacing.

L * $3.3 million to plan an addition to Broadneck High School.

* $2.4 million for Provinces Park near Severn.

* $1.3 million to develop Jack Creek Park near Shady Side.

* $1.8 million for the Crofton Athletic Complex.

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