A tax-increase proposal open to debate

May 16, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

At an annual hearing that has become mere formality, taxpayers will have an opportunity tonight to tell the County Council their thoughts on a proposal to raise property taxes above the constant-yield rate.

The constant-yield rate would produce the same amount of revenue from property taxes next fiscal year as this year, figuring in increased assessments. The county is required by state law to hold the hearing if its proposed tax rate is higher than the constant-yield rate.

If last year was any indication -- only three people testified -- the hearing will draw scant interest.

The constant-yield tax rate outside Annapolis for the 1995 fiscal year is $2.33 per $100 of assessed value, 2 cents lower than the rate County Executive Robert R. Neall proposed in his $711 million budget.

The current tax rate is $2.38 per $100 of assessed value.

In Annapolis, which has a different rate because residents also pay taxes to the city, the constant-yield tax rate is $1.20, 3 cents lower than Mr. Neall's proposed tax.

If the county abided by the constant-yield rate, it would have to cut the proposed budget by $2.57 million, said Finance Officer John Hammond.

The property tax cap, which limits the total annual growth in property tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the local rate of inflation, whichever is lower, forced the county to drop the tax rate by 3 cents this year.

"In a sense, the taxpayers have already spoken in passing a property tax cap that allows revenue to increase more than the constant-yield tax rate allows," said Mr. Hammond. "But not by much."

The council also will hold public hearings on several bills, including legislation to spend $244,280 to cover a 2 percent pay increase for some county workers. The increase would go to county employees represented by six unions that recently lost an impasse hearing before the council over changes to health coverage.

Late last week, county officials were still evaluating the effect of a Circuit Court judge's injunction. His ruling, granted to the firefighters union, prevents the county from notifying its employees of the changes to the health plan until two union grievances are resolved.

Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall, said Chief Administrative Officer Walter N. Chitwood and County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. were working on a plan to give Mr. Neall when he returns tomorrow from a European vacation. They also were trying to determine what effect the ruling will have on the 2 percent salary increase and whether the firefighters' victory affects other bargaining units.

Members of the six bargaining units are unhappy about changes they believe will limit their choices for health care and cost them more money. County officials say the changes are necessary to contain sharp increases in health care costs.

Union members are also unhappy that the raise they will receive in exchange for participating in the new health plan began April 21, instead of Dec. 30, as was granted to the union represeting the county's blue-collar workers.

Tonight's meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

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