Nearly 500 people attending last night's boisterous public hearing on the county's proposed $182 million budget first had to get past a gantlet of competing demonstrators.
Nearly two dozen pickets carried signs denouncing a 27-cent increase in the property tax rate proposed by County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell.
"Real Republicans don't raise taxes," one sign read. "It's the spending, stupid(s)!" read several others.
Brown and Dell are Republicans, as is the county's third commissioner, Richard T. Yates, who opposes the tax increase.
Eleven pickets supporting the tax increase carried signs saying things such as "Save our Library."
Although the commissioners did not speak at last night's hearing, Yates added fuel to the debate by taking out an advertisement in a local newspaper Wednesday and yesterday saying the county does not need a tax increase.
"I am very concerned because I feel that with the cooperation of the other commissioners, ways can be found to cut spending to hold the line on taxes," Yates said in his ad.
"While cutting programs makes me a pariah to those voters that have special programs they want funded, I also realize that higher taxes cut a very broad swath through all taxpayers."
Farmers could be forced into land sales and senior citizens and families with young children would be put "at risk" as a result of the tax increase, Yates said in his ad.
Supporters of the tax increase said county residents would be at risk without it.
"I realize it's not a popular position," but without an increase the county would deny needed services to "the poor, the disabled and to victimized citizens" said Sherry Jenkins, president of the local League of Women Voters.
Jenkins, who opened what turned into a debate last night, was applauded and jeered, as were many speakers who followed.
Citizen services, recreation and parks programs, firefighting services and the county's library system would be jeopardized if there is no tax increase, said Rosalie Street, a board member of the Human Services Program of Carroll County.
Her organization and others like it that would be funded by the proposed tax increase are "a huge safety net" for county residents, she said. "We must not allow it to be eliminated or cut back."
But opponents like Kathleen Glass of Westminster said the increased taxes put residents like herself at risk.
The proposed tax increase is a "Band-Aid approach" in a county that is "already changing for the worst" with increased crime, she said. "You have to do something about it rather than put your hands in taxpayers' pockets."
Chris Dolan of Westminster agreed. The services funded by the increase "affect only a small percent of the population -- the money comes from the rest of us," he said. "We don't need a tax increase, we need a spending decrease. Government at all levels needs to scale back like the rest of us."
If the tax increase is approved, the owner of a $153,105 house -- the average selling price of a Carroll home last year -- would pay $1,604.54 in property taxes, or $165.35 more than this year.
Raising the property tax from $2.35 to $2.62 per $100 of assessed value would provide the county with an additional $9 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Brown and Dell said earlier that the increase is necessary because other revenues are lagging and state funding has dwindled.
Pub Date: 5/10/96