County Council members lay it on the line: Taxes will not increase next year

March 09, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County Council members said for the record yesterday what many people have suspected for some time: The county will not raise taxes next year.

As a consequence, a prolonged, abrasive confrontation between the school board and the council over the fiscal 1996 budget appears inevitable.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker is expected to slash requests from all departments, including the Board of Education, rather than propose a tax increase when he sends his proposed budget to the council next month.

Board of Education members have asked the council to consider raising the property tax rate 5 cents to help close the gap between what they are seeking and what Mr. Ecker is expected to recommend. The property tax rate is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

Although the council can restore what Mr. Ecker cuts from the school budget, it either must raise taxes or cut elsewhere when doing so. Since the council will not raise taxes, the board will have to ask the council to cut other departments, virtually ensuring a squabble for limited dollars.

Word of the council's intention to keep the present tax rate came indirectly at the council's monthly administrative meeting yesterday.

Barbara Cook, the county's chief legal adviser, was telling the council that members must set aside enough time for a public hearing on the tax rate if they plan to increase it. The council is slated to adopt the fiscal 1996 budget and set the tax rate May 19.

Three of the five council members -- a legislative majority -- said they will not vote for a tax increase. The other two did not address the issue.

"This is all theoretical since we are not planning to raise taxes this year," said Councilman Darrel Drown, 1st District Republican.

Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, 5th District Republican, agreed. "I know I'm not going to raise taxes," he said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, 2nd District Democrat, made it a majority. He decided to go the Republicans one better, chiding Mr. Drown for the "this year" part of Mr. Drown's pledge not to raise taxes.

"This year?" Mr. Gray said. "You mean you're thinking about it for next year? I'm not planning to raise taxes ever."

After some good-natured teasing from his colleagues, Mr. Gray softened the "ever" part of his statement, but reiterated his intention not to raise taxes during this term.

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