Baltimore County property tax rate to be cut a penny

May 18, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

After labored election-year negotiations, the Baltimore County Council has given birth to a 1-cent reduction in the property tax rate that will save the average homeowner $4 next year.

In addition, the council tentatively decided yesterday to set the salary of the next county executive at $90,000 a year but keep council salaries at $30,900.

Depending on the point of view, the new executive salary is a $14,080 pay raise or a $10,700 pay cut.

That's because the executive's official salary is now $100,700, but during years of cutbacks of services and layoffs, incumbent Republican Roger B. Hayden said he would accept only $75,920.

The formal votes on Mr. Hayden's $1.26 billion budget for 1994-1995 will come Tuesday, and the formal salary votes will come in June.

In reducing the budget by $1.5 million to achieve the one-penny cut in the property tax rate, the council did not cut jobs or services. Almost all of the savings came from reducing estimates of health insurance and trash-removal costs.

Each penny of the current tax rate, $2.865 for each $100 in assessed value, brings in $1.5 million.

The penny cut means the tax bill for an average county home worth $117,000 will increase by $27 in July instead of $31 under the current tax rate. The increase is the result of slowly rising assessments.

That $4 election-year tax cut drew ridicule yesterday from three councilmen who wanted to use money cut from other areas of the budget to hire more police officers and teachers instead of to reduce the tax rate.

They compromised, however, because they could not attract a fourth vote to gain a majority on the seven-member council and did not have the support of Mr. Hayden, who would have had to agree to reallocate the money.

Councilman Vincent Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, called the penny cut "an election-year gimmick. For $1.5 million, we could hire more police or teachers or firefighters."

Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a Timonium Democrat and one of two council members running for executive, ridiculed the property tax cut as worth no more than "two quarter-pounders with cheese."

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican and the third vote for more police officers and teachers, said he was happy that the budget emerged without major slashing.

The council's budget message next week will urge that any more savings identified during the coming year be used to bolster the police force.

Mr. Hayden, who is ill and preparing for surgery next week to repair a congenital blood vessel malformation, said the budget already provides for more police officers and that plans to replace desk officers with civilians will put more police on county streets than ever before.

The county executive has been out of his office since May 8, when a blood vessel in his head burst, robbing him of vision on his right side. He probably will be out for another month or more, leaving the county administrative officer, Merreen Kelly, in charge.

Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, a Fullerton Republican; Pikesville Democrat Melvin G. Mintz, the other county executive candidate; and Catonsville Republican Berchie Lee Manley favored the penny tax cut.

Dundalk Democrat Donald C. Mason, the council's most ardent tax-cutting advocate, presented what he called a non-negotiable proposal for $8.5 million in cuts, which would have reduced the tax rate by 5.5 cents.

His proposal included shaving one percentage point from the 4 percent pay increase for employees that Mr. Hayden had proposed, which would have accounted for a $6.9 million reduction.

Mr. Mason's proposal went further than the other tax cutters were willing to go, so the remaining six council members worked out a compromise without him.

"I'm not going to support this budget," Mr. Mason said of the final agreement.

Mr. Howard said he pushed hard for the tax rate cut because he felt committed to it after voting to increase the county's piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 55 percent of state income taxes in 1992.

Last year, the council cut nothing from the executive's budget.

"To me, the issue is my word," Mr. Howard said, calling the 1-cent tax rate reduction "better than having nothing."

Mr. Mintz said he was willing to cut more and use the money saved to reduce the tax rate and add more police officers. He again mentioned cutting the $2.9 million Mr. Hayden has set aside for the county's rainy day surplus fund as a quick source of money for other things.

The agreement on elected officials' salaries for next term means that the official pay rate for county executive will drop from the current $100,700 to $90,000. But since Mr. Hayden only accepts $75,920, the new salary would be an 18 percent pay raise.

Mr. Hayden has said he would accept no more than the 4 percent increase that other workers would get. That pay raise would be the first for county workers since 1991.

The official County Council salary is $36,600, but council members are accepting only $30,900. Members tentatively agreed to keep the next council's pay at $30,900 for four more years.

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