11% boost in property-tax rate proposed in Carroll Co. 2 commissioners fear looming budget deficit

April 12, 1996|By Donna R. Engle and Greg Tasker | Donna R. Engle and Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Scrambling to keep pace with development that has brought 20,000 new residents since 1990, two of Carroll County's three commissioners say they're ready to raise the property tax rate 25 cents to $2.60.

The 11 percent increase would generate $8.35 million, eliminating a projected $5 million gap in next year's budget and leaving $3.35 million for badly needed schools and roads.

"I was the one who initiated that [$2.60 tax rate]," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday. "It's something a politician wouldn't ordinarily take credit for, but in my mind, I can justify that increase."

The commissioners, all conservative Republicans, were elected on a "no new taxes" platform in 1994. But taxpayers packed a marathon two-week round of budget hearings last month, arguing against drastic cuts in libraries, gifted education and social programs.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown aired the prospect of a $2.60 tax rate at a business reception last month. This week, Mr. Brown said he had been "at best, speculating," but wouldn't rule out the $2.60 rate. The final decision will depend on "how far beyond a standstill budget we want to go," he said.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he doesn't know what tax rate his colleagues have discussed because he walked out when the topic came up.

"I exited myself when they decided they weren't going to go with an austere budget," Mr. Yates said. He said that hearing opposition to cuts in services from about 2,000 residents -- by letter and at budget hearings -- isn't enough to convince him a hTC tax increase is needed.

The owner of a house assessed at $100,000 would see his annual tax bill rise $100 a year, from $940 and a $1,040, if the $2.60 rate is approved.

Mr. Dell said he used a speech to the Chamber of Commerce yesterday to begin laying out the logic for a tax increase, without specifying a figure.

"If we raise taxes 1 cent this year, we're going to catch hell. If we raise taxes 25 cents this year, we're going to catch hell. But if we raise taxes 1 cent this year, we're going to have it [to do] again next year," he said.

Lori Graham, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said the business group will issue a statement on the proposed tax increase after commissioners release their fiscal 1997 budget Thursday.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said he has heard a uniformly negative reaction from business leaders who had been told of the proposed tax increase.

Mr. Yowan said this year's budget discussions appeared to be orchestrated to arouse public sentiment for tax increase. The suggested cuts in programs such as 4-H and public library hours are "just absurd. Why even put that out? The only thing you can think of is that this was all done to justify an increase," he said.

Robert Sapora, president of the county's library board, said he was overjoyed the commissioners are considering a tax increase. The additional money would mean the library would not have to fire 30 people or reduce library hours from 60 hours to 40 hours a week.

"We heard a tremendous outpouring for library services to stay where they are. If that, in part, has been one of the things that helped the commissioners take this brave stand on taxes, I'm real glad," he said.

William D. Drumm Jr., president of the Carroll County Taxpayers Association, opposes any tax increase.

"It's ridiculous to have some of the programs," he said, referring to social services programs such as Rape Crisis. "Yeah, we need libraries. I use them myself. The problem is people are used to all of these giveaway programs and come to expect them and expect people to keep paying for them."

Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, said a tax increase would be more palatable if the county were more successful in attracting commercial and industrial development to boost the tax base.

"I don't think there's ever support for a tax increase," he said. "People are realizing that it is somewhat inevitable. Nobody's anxious to pay new taxes, but the budget has been cut as deeply as it can be at this time."

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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