Council cuts tax rate by a penny, passes $1.26 billion budget

May 25, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

In a fit of election-year bickering, the Baltimore County Council adopted yesterday a $1.26 billion budget for 1994-1995 that reduces the tax rate by a penny. The council also approved new salaries for the next council and county executive.

The spending plan is virtually unchanged from the budget County Executive Roger B. Hayden submitted April 14, except for a reduction in the property tax rate from $2.865 to $2.855 per $100 of assessed value.

The cut will save the average county homeowner with a house worth $117,000 about $4. But even with the reduction, the average tax bill will increase by $27 because of slowly rising assessments.

The decrease in the tax rate -- achieved on paper by reducing projections of health insurance and trash removal costs -- produced more public sniping and arguing on the seven-member council than any other issue in the past 3 1/2 years.

Dundalk Democrat Donald C. Mason voted against the budget plan for the third year in a row, complaining that government spending and taxes are going up when they should be going down.

That brought a jab from Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley, who joked that this was the first time Mr. Mason had voted against a tax rate reduction.

Mr. Riley, Perry Hall Democrat Vincent Gardina and Timonium Democrat Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III criticized the majority decision to cut the tax rate by 1 cent instead of recycling the $1.5 million to add police officers and teachers.

Mr. Hayden was willing to reallocate funds the council cut in that manner, Mr. Riley pointed out, but there was no fourth vote on the council for such action. He criticized Catonsville Republican Berchie Lee Manley for first seeming to agree to the plan, but then changing her mind after a plea from Chairman William A. Howard IV, a Fullerton Republican who was determined to cut the tax rate -- even by a penny.

Mr. Ruppersberger said he voted for the budget "with great reluctance," because he preferred putting more police officers on the streets to saving taxpayers $4 next year.

Mr. Gardina, a former police officer, ridiculed the 1-cent cut, saying he was "appalled" at what he considered election year posturing.

"Leadership demanded that the welfare of the county come first, not the election," he said.

Mr. Gardina said he planned to use his tax savings to buy two fast-food hamburgers on his way home.

Pikesville Democrat Melvin G. Mintz, a penny-tax-cut advocate, chided him. "Thanks for your vote," he said, referring to Mr. Gardina's vote for the budget.

Mrs. Manley defended her decision, which she based on the council's 1992 pledge to cut taxes whenever possible after it raised the county's piggy-back income tax. Mr. Howard said that was the basis of his decision, too.

In addition to the budget, the council approved bills that would give new County Council members elected in November the same $30,900 a year that members now receive.

The new county executive, however, officially would earn $90,000 a year to ensure that he earned $5,000 more than the administrative officer. Though the official executive salary is now $100,700, Mr. Hayden is accepting $75,920 a year and has said he will take only the general 4 percent pay raise granted to county employees.

Mr. Mintz voted against the executive-salary bill. He and Mr. Ruppersberger are running for county executive this year.

Despite the bickering over the mostly symbolic tax cut, council members agreed that Mr. Hayden's budget -- made possible by better economic conditions and increased tax revenue estimates -- will help the county recover from the severe cuts of the recession by providing more police, teachers and firefighters.

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