Property tax plan hailed by agencies Proposed 27-cent rise would help to erase $5 million shortage

'Courageous farsighted'

Without proposal, commissioners face major funding cuts

April 21, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

A proposed 27-cent increase in Carroll County's property tax would allow thousands of county youths to remain in popular 4-H and home economics programs, keep museums and libraries open and enable social services agencies to continue to help the needy.

"Obviously, we're very happy," said George Andrews, director of vocational services for Target Inc., about the proposed tax increase, which would restore $19,865 to the nonprofit group. Target provides job training for the poor and developmentally disadvantaged.

"My whole staff is made up of county residents, so it's a double-edged sword for us. Our program is saved but our taxes are going up," he said. "We're thrilled, though."

Raising the property tax from $2.35 to $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, about an 11 percent increase, would provide the county with an additional $9 million next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Most of the money would be used to offset a $5 million shortfall attributed to sluggish property tax and income tax growth. It also would provide money for roads and bridges, volunteer firefighter services and farmland preservation.

Without the tax increase, county officials would be looking at drastically reducing funding for citizen service agencies, recreation and parks programs, firefighter services and the county's heavily used library system.

of residents, firefighters, library patrons and others showed up at budget hearings to protest the proposed cuts and urge the Board of County Commissioners to raise taxes.

The proposed tax increase -- backed by Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell, but opposed by Commissioner Richard T. Yates -- would be the county's first since 1989. It would cost the average homeowner $162 a year. The county's tax rate has fluctuated during the past three decades between $1.93 and $2.65.

When the proposed budget was unveiled last week, Mr. Dell said he "despised" taxes, but raising money now would mean less borrowing -- and at a higher rate -- in the future. The county's overall spending would rise about 4 percent to $161 million. That figure includes the county's share of the Board of Education budget, about $78 million.

"We're thankful the commissioners have been listening to the public speak about restoring cuts," said Jo Ann Hare, executive director of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County Inc., which stood to lose $50,640 in county funding without the tax increase.

"Obviously, we're very happy," Ms. Hare said, noting the tax increase would mean her organization would not have to cut important education programs and staff hours.

Generally, the proposed budget would restore money to those agencies and departments initially targeted for cuts, including the Carroll County Farm Museum and the Homestead Museum, the 4-H and home economics programs and various agencies serving the disadvantaged, including the ARC of Carroll County and Change Inc.

"Of course it's good news for us at the farm museum," said Dottie Freeman, museum administrator. "With all the cuts, we may have been forced to shut down or do without special events. That would have been unfortunate since we're celebrating our 30th anniversary."

Robert Sapora, library board president, commended the commissioners for having the political courage to propose raising taxes. The library system was facing a $644,525 cut in county money, which would have meant the layoff of 30 workers and reduced hours.

With a tax increase, the library still would lose about $100,000. Mr. Sapora said he didn't know what that impact would be, but the board will address the issue Wednesday.

David Greene, director of the county's extension service, said the commissioners' plan to restore most of his agency's budget would mean "everything stays intact," including the 4-H and home economics programs, which provide activities and education for thousands of Carroll youth.

"We don't have to lay off anybody. We don't have any major changes to the programs," he said. "The commissioners' decision was courageous and farsighted. What this tax increase means is that they are addressing the needs of this county."

Don Rowe, director of Summer Enterprises, a vocational training and job program for the developmentally disabled, said the proposed tax increase was "tremendous news." Restoring $25,145 to the agency means job-training programs would not be curtailed.

"What this means is that we can continue to provide services to those people we serve," Mr. Rowe said.

Not every agency had its total funding restored. The Sexual Abuse Treatment Center in Westminster would receive $136,830, about half of its county allocation.

Sandra L. Rappeport, the agency's Carroll County district director, said the loss would mean children and nonoffending parents would receive priority in counseling programs. Adult survivors of sexual abuse would not be accommodated, she said.

The center served 309 clients, including 105 children, last year.

"We were disappointed we were not completely restored," Ms. Rappeport said. "But we will continue to look for alternative sources of funding."

Like directors of other nonprofit agencies and county departments, Ms. Rappeport stressed the need for public support of the commissioners' proposed tax increase. "People need to understand that the tax increase is absolutely crucial to us," she said. "We may be de-funded again if the commissioners don't approve the full 27 cents."

The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the budget for May 9.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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