County seeks to have suit by Annapolis dismissed City is fighting increase of property tax in court

June 06, 1996|By Scott Wilson and Dan Thanh Dang | Scott Wilson and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for Anne Arundel County fired back yesterday in the court battle with Annapolis leaders over an impending city property tax increase, calling the lawsuit a waste of public money and moving to have it dismissed.

In a scathing court filing two inches thick, county attorneys accused Annapolis officials of "crafting a transparent, amateurish strategy aimed at generating a lawsuit" rather than negotiating an end to what has become a political feud. The documents label city officials "self-serving" and accuse the nTC Annapolis leadership of "publishing falsehoods" to support their legal claims.

The motion, filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, is a response to a lawsuit filed against top county officials last week by Annapolis attorneys in an effort to block an 8-cent increase in the city property tax rate. Judge James C. Cawood Jr. is scheduled to decide the matter at 9: 30 a.m. tomorrow.

"They wanted to litigate, not negotiate," said Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer of city leaders. "That has been clear from the beginning."

The fight, which began May 1, has strained city-county relations. Yesterday's court filing, which portrays the top echelon of city government as incompetent, will likely exacerbate the political shouting match.

The tax increase, which will raise $720,000 a year for Anne Arundel, would add $61 to the average Annapolis property tax bill. If Cawood rules in the county's favor, the new rate will take effect July 1.

The higher rate is a result of a reduction in the tax break Annapolis receives from the county for providing public services. That credit is known as the "tax differential," a controversial issue in Anne Arundel for more than 20 years.

In the court filing, peppered with technical data and personal attacks, Plymyer contended that Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins' decision not to argue against the tax last week was proof that the city forced the matter into court.

Hopkins wrote county council members explaining that he did not testify because he thought the council could not set the tax differential. He later discovered the council does have that authority.

"The city chose instead to manufacture 'evidence' that the county failed to conduct 'good faith' discussions with the mayor and city council," Plymyer wrote. "This doomed strategy culminated in one of the most bizarre, inept turn of events in the long, controversial history of the tax differential."

The Annapolis lawsuit was filed by City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke on behalf of four Annapolis property owners. It names County Executive John G. Gary, county financial officer John R. Hammond and the seven-member County Council as defendants.

A day after the suit was filed, the council approved a $754 million county budget for the next fiscal year containing the tax increase.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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