Officials ask delegation for tax districts Commissioners want to ease county burden in face of budget cuts

'It's a user-pays system'

Plan would allow communities to pay for infrastructure

February 23, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners are asking Carroll's General Assembly delegation for authority to create special tax districts that would allow communities to pay for infrastructure improvements. Faced with a projected $5 miloking for financing alternatives.

"This is a new age for government," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said. "It gives us another tool to keep on the shelf. The county can't afford new financial obligations."

The commissioners have promised cuts across the board, leaving only the economic development office untouched by the budget ax.

"It is not just 4-H and home economics that will be affected," Mr. Brown said. "Everybody will be affected, except economic development. We are committed to keeping that department intact."

Decisions on what will be cut from county departments will not come until early April, said Cindy Parr, county spokeswoman.

"We know we are going to have to hurt somebody," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates. "Even the commissioners' budget is not beyond reproach."

Tax districts offer the county a way to respond to residents' requests for water and sewer and other large projects without adding to the overall tax burden. The concept allows residential or industrial development to pay for necessary services, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Yates said he would only use such districting to address water and sewer problems.

"The county has no money to deal with problems and the costs of people who want to [use] our water and sewer systems," Mr. Yates said.

Two-thirds of the people living in an unincorporated area -- incorporated towns already have authority to create and finance their projects -- would have to agree on the project, county officials said.

Once a special district is created, the county would issue bonds and decide how much each resident would be charged to retire the debt. The ordinance would allow officials to calculate fees based on assessed value, amount of road frontage or "any other reasonable manner."

The county would collect the fees and, depending on the specific plan, maintain the infrastructure. Once the bond debt is retired, and if the structure doesn't need maintenance, the special tax district would be dissolved.

"There is no tax until the bonds are issued, and no bonds are issued until two-thirds of the residents request it," said Westminster attorney David Bowersox.

Mr. Bowersox has donated his time to help a group of Lineboro residents who are trying to build and manage a private waste-water treatment system in the unincorporated North Carroll community, where about 60 percent of septic systems are failing.

nTC "It's a user-pays system. It allocates the cost of the infrastructure so only those who use it pay for it," Mr. Bowersox said. "These days, tax money is getting thinner and thinner. We're trying to find a creative user-pay method."

In a letter to Carroll's state lawmakers, the commissioners detailed the "potentially hazardous situation" in Lineboro, where failing septic systems are in danger of polluting nearby wells.

The communities of Bark Hill and Pleasant Valley, which once experienced severe water pollution problems, would have been areas suitable for such districts, Mr. Brown said.

The legislation is already on the books in five counties -- Garrett, Howard, Prince George's, Washington and Wicomico -- and under consideration in Frederick County.

State Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson said the law should only be used for the most expensive infrastructure.

"I have no problem with tax districts per se," he said. "They are a valuable tool, if limited, but there shouldn't be carte blanche."

The Taylorsville Republican said he was disappointed that the delegation had no time to gather residents' input on the proposal, which the legislators received Wednesday.

Del. Ellen L. Willis, a Westminster Democrat appointed Monday to fill the seat vacated by state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, said the delegation "appears to all be moving in the same direction. My understanding is the concept is very broad, and we are

narrowing it."

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