Why property tax increase is needed Budget squeeze, deferred projects necessitate higher levy.

April 29, 1996

IT INCLUDES only a 4 percent increase in spending over this year, but the 1996-97 Carroll County budget unveiled by the commissioners last week is based on a hefty 11.5 percent rise in the property tax rate.

That 27-cent increase in the tax rate, to $2.62 per $100 of assessed valuation, is needed because of a projected $5 million BTC shortfall in revenue and a backlog of capital projects -- $25 million in roads and bridges alone -- that have been put off for years. Since 1990, Carroll has lost funding and revenues, due to reductions in federal and state aid and the business tax base, equivalent to 58 cents on the tax rate, Commissioner Donald I. Dell points out. You can "pay me now or pay me later," a familiar TV ad reminded us; later is now for Carroll County. The property tax increase is both inevitable and warranted, if Carroll is to maintain its quality of life and avoid financial problems.

Citizens have a chance to review and comment on the $162 million operating budget, and the $82 million capital budget, before the commissioners take final action. But there has already been a slew of meetings to gauge public sentiment to specific parts of the budget, so there's little prospect of major changes.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates can cling to his no-tax-increase credo, while the other two approve the budget and higher rate. If last year's exercise of raising the piggyback income tax rate is an indication, the proposed property rate hike may be whittled to 25 cents, if only for appearance sake.

The budget crisis wasn't just about the need to maintain funding for 4-H Clubs and library services. It wasn't about whether Carroll should preserve its agrarian acres as an environmental amenity, or keep up its firefighting capabilities. Or build needed schools. It was about all these things and more, adding up to a budget in need of a major infusion of home-grown revenue.

With no major industry to take up the slack, the burden falls on residential property and income taxes, which will make up 80 percent of 1996-97 revenues. The property tax hike means $162 more from the average homeowner.

Make no mistake about it. Taxpayers expect results, in reduced waste and improved efficiency, from the commissioners. They won't tolerate another tax crisis call next year.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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