Tax increases on horizon so 8 schools can be built

March 14, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Carroll County Department of Management and BudgetSun Staff Writer

Carroll residents likely will see an increase in the piggyback income tax, beginning this summer, so the county can afford to build eight new schools in the next six years, the county commissioners said yesterday.

The tax increase is one way county officials have proposed raising money to handle the school population, which is expected to grow by about 4,100 students to 28,000 students by the year 2000.

The county also has proposed initiating a county hotel/motel tax and real estate transfer tax, as well as increasing various county fees.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said residents told him during last fall's election campaign that they want schools, roads and other facilities to keep pace with growth.

"You can only look at this so many ways before you realize there are no other viable options" to tax increases, Mr. Brown said.

The commissioners have proposed raising the piggyback tax to 60 percent of the state's income tax rate -- the maximum the state allows. Carroll's rate now is 50 percent.

County Budget Director Steven D. Powell detailed the proposal at a meeting at Bear Branch Nature Center yesterday morning. )) About 60 people, including representatives from the board of education, Sheriff's Department, Carroll Community College and Human Services Programs Inc., attended.

Mr. Brown said officials "bent over backwards" not to raise county property tax rates because it would hit people on fixed incomes the hardest.

The county's rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation has not changed since 1990.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he supports an increase in the piggyback tax "not because we like to [raise taxes], but because we feel it is an absolute necessity."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he does not support a tax increase.

"We raised the impact fee. I'm not agreeable to raising more taxes," he said.

Last month, the commissioners voted unanimously to increase the impact fee, which is a one-time fee charged on new homes. The increase to $4,487 per single-family home from $2,700 is expected to raise an additional $1.4 million per year. The fee had raised about $3 million annually.

Burke Lego of Westminster, vice president of the Carroll County Taxpayers Association, said he voted in November for representatives who would cut taxes.

"I think this is utterly ridiculous. I'll be surprised if the people of Carroll are willing to go along with what you've presented," he said.

The commissioners have not voted on the proposed piggyback tax increase. They said they will listen to residents' comments at five budget information meetings beginning March 30. They are scheduled to adopt a budget for fiscal 1996, which begins July 1, on May 30.

The piggyback tax increase would raise $4 million in fiscal 1996, because the increase would be in effect half a year, and $9.3 million in fiscal 1997. Raising other fees would generate $2 million.

The proposed tax and fee increases would be needed to meet a projected deficit of $4.2 million in fiscal 1996, Mr. Powell said.

Any money raised from a county hotel/motel tax and a county transfer tax were not included in budget calculations because the two measures would require General Assembly approval next year, Mr. Powell said.

The fiscal 1996 operating budget is expected to total about $150 million, including increases in two areas -- $2.25 million for the school system to handle an additional 700 students next year and $3.2 million in additional principal and interest on money borrowed for county and school projects, Mr. Powell said.

No other departments will see an increase from the current year's budget of $144 million, he said. Departments and agencies had requested $177 million.

Revenue will grow modestly in the next five years, but expenditures will grow faster, Mr. Powell predicted. For that reason, the fiscal 1997 operating budget will have to be smaller than the fiscal 1996 budget, he said.

To try to accomplish that, Mr. Powell and the commissioners proposed a program of "zero-based budgeting" in which they and a citizens panel will review each department's budget.

"The goal is, 'What does it minimally cost to do your basic mission,' " Mr. Powell said.

The process goes beyond "squeezing inefficiencies out" of the budget, he said. "What do we want Carroll County to be? What role should Carroll County government have?"

Zero-based budgeting will result in less government, Mr. Powell said.


The Carroll County Commissioners propose using money generated by increases in impact fees and the piggyback tax for these school construction projects:

* 1996 -- A new Elmer Wolfe Elementary School and Oklahoma Road Middle School.

* 1997 -- An elementary school in Southeast Carroll and one in the Westminster area.

* 1998 -- An elementary school in Manchester.

* 1999 -- A new Westminster High School, plus additions and alterations to Francis Scott Key High School.

* 2000 -- A new Westminster Middle School.

* 2001 -- A new Hampstead Middle School.

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