Tilting at the tax differential windmill Annapolis politicians, not taxpayers, gain most by this fight.

July 05, 1996

POLITICS, rather than logic, seem to be driving the recent decision by the Annapolis City Council's finance committee to spend as much as $50,000 to finance private lawsuits by property owners to contest this year's tax differential between the city and Anne Arundel County.

Pouring money down this legal rathole is likely to achieve nothing more than keeping squads of attorneys busy. It is unlikely that revisiting this issue in the courts will repeal the county's 8-cent property tax increase for Annapolis.

When Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge James C. Cawood Jr. dismissed the city's suit against the county last month, he indicated that a city taxpayer would be the appropriate party to challenge the tax rate.

However, there aren't many taxpayers willing to lay out tens of thousands of their money to fight an increase that totals about $64 to the average Annapolis property owner.

Thus, the council is dipping into the public treasury so that all Annapolis taxpayers pick up the tab -- the only way to keep this suit alive. Considering that the $50,000 is nearly a half-cent on the city's tax rate, this quixotic effort is costly. And if the county decides ultimately to press for the city to pick up its legal costs, the tab could grow by tens of thousands of dollars -- several more cents on Annapolis' tax rate. Money already committed to other needs may be diverted to finance this hopeless suit.

Standing up to the county government and against tax increases plays well with some city voters. As a result, potential candidates for mayor of Annapolis will continue to wage this senseless crusade as long as taxpayers are picking up the tab. Perhaps Annapolitans ought to tell their aldermen to stop squandering precious tax dollars on a fruitless battle.

Underlying this dispute is an important issue: The current method of determining the tax differential for Annapolis residents may not be as equitable as it could be. It will take careful analysis and serious negotiation between city and county officials to determine whether the current system is fair. If such an investigation shows an inequity, Annapolis would be well within its rights to look to the legal system for relief. But to rush headlong into court now is premature, counterproductive and pointless.

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