Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III outlined a plan yesterday that could reduce closing costs for the average county homebuyer by about $350 without an impact on the county treasury.
The sleight-of-hand would reduce the discount offered to existing homeowners who pay property taxes early and apply the money recovered to reducing the amount of county transfer tax new homebuyers pay.
"It's a start. Somebody has to do something," Mr. Ruppersberger said after a breakfast meeting with Baltimore County's legislative delegation in Annapolis.
The plan to reduce closing costs was one of several legislative proposals the executive mentioned as he continued his efforts to cement a working relationship with the delegation -- something his predecessor didn't always enjoy.
His proposals seemed to win points with legislators. He asked for their help in lobbying the Board of Public Works for more school construction money, suggested tougher penalties for car thieves, and proposed several ways to add a few dollars to county coffers painlessly.
Almost as important was what Mr. Ruppersberger didn't ask for, several legislators said. For example, he proposed only one pork barrel project -- $250,000 to clean up chromium waste from Stansbury Park in Dundalk. The county would match the money.
"We are not looking to state government to solve Baltimore County's problems," Mr. Ruppersberger told the group, which included delegates and senators, as well as three County Council members. "I do not view Annapolis as a pot of money to be grabbed at . . . I will not ask the state to take hard votes on things I wouldn't do or I wouldn't ask the council to do."
Several legislators said the executive had the right priorities.
"I think it's a rational and do-able agenda," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, the Essex Democrat who chairs the Senate delegation.
"He's done his homework," said Del. James F. Ports, a Republican from Perry Hall. "It's one of the best [legislative] proposals I've seen."
County lobbyist Patrick Roddy, who served in the same capacity under former County Executive Roger B. Hayden, said Mr. Ruppersberger -- who served for eight years on the council -- is working hard to build a team relationship with the legislators.
"He knows what it's like for a county executive to put legislators in a bad position, either by not keeping them informed, or by asking them to do something they can't do," Mr. Roddy said.
On the closing cost issue, Mr. Ruppersberger noted that Maryland's closing costs -- among the highest in the nation -- deter some businesses from moving here or expanding existing operations.
While the General Assembly may ultimately adopt other measures to lower closing costs statewide, Mr. Ruppersberger said he wanted to do something to help homebuyers in Baltimore County. Under his plan, state legislators would repeal a state law that calls for discounts for county homeowners who pay their property taxes early.
Currently, Baltimore County has the highest mandatory discounts for those who pay property taxes early -- 2 percent if they're paid by July, and 1 percent between July 1 and August 1.
Were the legislators to repeal those discounts, Mr. Ruppersberger said, he would lobby the County Council to adopt lower discounts of 1 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. That would mean slightly higher payments for existing homeowners -- about $10 on a $1,000 tax bill for those who pay by July 1.
The money would be used to help homebuyers by exempting the first $22,000 of the home's purchase price from the county's 1.6 percent transfer tax, Mr. Ruppersberger said.
Under the proposal, the buyer of a $100,000 home would owe $1,248 in county transfer taxes instead of $1,600, a savings of $352.