New real estate transfer tax urged Backers want funds to preserve farmland, aid capital projects

November 03, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,SUN STAFF

Would Carroll voters support a tax increase to preserve

farmland and pay for capital projects?

The County Commissioners say they want to put the question as a referendum to let residents decide whether the county should enact a new real estate transfer tax.

The commissioners propose enacting a 1 percent tax on the value of real estate transactions. Half the money raised would go toward preserving farmland; the other half would be used for capital projects.

Next month, the commissioners plan to ask county legislators to introduce a bill in Annapolis that would give them the authority to put the issue to a referendum vote and enact the tax.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said yesterday that if the tax had been enacted this fiscal year it would have raised about $2.5 million.

The county's major farm organizations support the tax. Medford farmer Melvin Baile Jr., chairman of the Carroll Agricultural Land Preservation Program, said the idea is not a new one: Harford and Howard counties have similar taxes.

"It's something that's not gotten serious consideration to this point [in Carroll]. I guess we're at a crossroads," he said. 'N Preserving farmland from development is one way to manage the county's explosive residential growth, he said.

The commissioners' bill may never be introduced, however, because two Carroll legislators said they would not support any legislation related to a tax increase.

"I'll support additional funding for farmland preservation, but not through a tax increase," said Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines of the 5th District, who chairs the delegation.

Del. Richard N. Dixon, a 5th District Democrat, said, "I'm not voting for any tax increase, no matter what type of tax it is."

The proposed tax would be levied in addition to a real estate transfer tax of one-half of 1 percent charged by the state. Money raised through that tax goes to Program Open Space and agricultural preservation projects.

The new tax also would be in addition to the state agricultural transfer tax levied when property used for farm purposes is sold for another use. A portion of those tax revenues goes toward agriculture preservation programs.

Mr. Baile predicted residents would have two reactions to a proposed tax increase. "To the ones who realize the face of the county is changing, this would be one thing that could help," he said. Others would see it "as one more daggone tax," he said.

But a transfer tax might be more "palatable" to voters because residents would not pay it annually, he said. "The piggyback tax is going to hit you every year. Property tax hits you annually," Mr. Baile said.

Glenn D. Shirley of the Carroll County Farm Bureau wrote in a recent letter to the commissioners that Farm Bureau members have supported a transfer tax dedicated to agricultural land preservation and capital projects for at least three years.

Farmers would end up paying a transfer tax, but they believe the farmland preservation program is "an important tool" in helping to keep agriculture a viable industry in Carroll, he wrote.

The Carroll County Agricultural Commission also supports the proposal, and a county Planning Department report released earlier this year recommended a transfer tax devoted to farm preservation.

The county has preserved about 22,000 acres of farmland through the Maryland Agricultural Preservation Program. It leads the state in farm preservation and ranks third in the nation among counties. The county master plan states that Carroll needs to preserve 100,000 acres to keep agriculture viable.

The state preservation program, started in 1977, allows farmers to profit without selling their land for development. The state buys development rights and landowners continue to farm. The county usually pays 40 percent of the cost of development rights.

Howard County enacted a 1 percent real estate transfer tax in the early 1980s, of which one-quarter is used for agriculture preservation.

Harford County asked voters in a 1992 referendum whether they would support a 1 percent transfer tax dedicated equally to agricultural land preservation and school construction, and 66 percent voted for it. The tax is levied on the value of the sale, less $30,000.

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