Piggyback tax rate to be cut Commissioners will vote to restore it to 50 percent

Tariff was to build schools

58 percent rate began in May 1995 for new facilities

February 07, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll's 19-month experiment at building schools with help from a 16 percent increase in the local income tax rate is coming to an end.

County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates said yesterday that they will vote next week to repeal the tax increase June 30, restoring the so-called piggyback tax rate to 50 percent of a person's state income tax liability.

Brown and Commissioner Donald I. Dell raised the rate to 58 percent May 31, 1995, expecting to build eight new schools in the next six years by combining more than $41 million in added tax revenue with state aid.

But "the state's commitment to share construction and major renovation costs is untimely at best," Brown said at a news conference he and Yates held yesterday.

Brown noted, for example, that the state has agreed to provide only $1 million of the $7 million the county requested for a $16 million renovation of Francis Scott Key High School and is not giving the county any of the $3.5 million sought for the planned Cranberry Elementary School.

"I know we can appeal," Brown said, but "lacking the [state's] ability to keep that commitment, I am no longer comfortable with collecting the increased taxes. The whole issue is credibility with the people of Carroll County."

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, said school officials were unaware of Brown's proposal until asked about it by reporters yesterday.

School officials discussed the funding of Francis Scott Key High School and other construction projects with the County Commissioners at their Feb. 4 quarterly meeting, Smith said, but "there was not a whisper, not a word" about scaling back the piggyback tax.

Despite his call for repeal of the tax increase, "It is essential that we build these schools," Brown said.

The question is how.

Brown proposes forming a commission "to explore all avenues of funding and facility utilization."

He wants the panel to make recommendations to the commissioners by April 1 so that they might be reflected in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The appointed commission would include representatives from the school board, the county planning and zoning commission, the economic development commission and the Chamber of Commerce, Brown said.

The commission would not simply explore ways to find revenue for what Brown calls a school construction funding crisis but also would consider alternatives such as expanding or renovating existing schools, he said.

School board official Smith says Brown's proposal for an April 1 deadline for the commission to complete its work is "very aggressive."

The school board updates its facilities master plan annually for presentation to the public each April and has begun that process, he said.

"Adding to school buildings is something we have discussed," Smith said.

A fine arts addition to South Carroll High School is in the school system's six-year plan.

And an addition to Liberty High School "is also something we're looking at," he said.

However, the school board remains committed to maximum enrollments of 1,400 for a high school, 975 for a middle school and 745 for an elementary school, Smith said.

Although "we do need to seriously consider expanding South Carroll and Liberty, we cannot at the same time abandon the need for a new Westminster High School," Smith said.

Yates said he would give Dell a chance to second Brown's motion to repeal the tax because Yates did not support the increase when it was approved.

Dell said yesterday he needs time to study the proposal before commenting.

The piggyback income tax increase generates between $7.5 million and $8 million a year, said county Budget Director Steven D. Powell.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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