Vote on piggyback tax expected today Brown wants study of school funding

February 10, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners' second order of business this morning will be to discuss -- read rescind -- a 16 percent increase in the local income tax, revenue that had been earmarked for school construction through 2001.

Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates said they would vote today to repeal the tax increase June 30. That move would restore the so-called piggyback tax rate to 50 percent of a person's state income tax liability.

Yates, who opposed the increase when it was approved in May 1995, said he would second Brown's motion today to rescind the increase if Commissioner Donald I. Dell did not do it first.

Brown called for a repeal of the increase at a news conference last week, saying the county could not depend on state aid to help with school construction.

Dell, who did not attend the news conference, said he would not comment on the proposal until today.

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

Brown said he was disturbed that the state Board of Public Works had approved only $1 million of $7 million requested to help with a $16 million renovation of Francis Scott Key High School.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county's legislative delegation, said state aid would be forthcoming.

"Last year, we got $6.2 million -- pretty much what we asked for," he said. "And we can pretty much assume full funding on Francis Scott Key" this year.

Brown "should have called the delegation" about his concerns about school funding, Haines said.

"He is going to get his funding this year. We have at least two votes [on the three-member Board of Public Works] and we may have all three," he said.

Haines said the commissioners never should have raised the piggyback tax rate in the first place.

L "I guess it's a political move, now" to rescind it, he said.

Haines and the commissioners are Republicans.

Joseph H. Mettle, planning commission vice chairman, praised Brown's proposal, saying he had discussed it with him several days in advance.

"We're doing our part. The state isn't," Mettle said. "Ben was very disturbed that our people were sending [income tax] money down [to Annapolis] and not getting any of it back."

Mettle has asked to become a member of a panel Brown wants the commissioners to appoint to address school funding.

"Personally, I'm leaning toward bond funding [for school construction] and a moratorium on growth in 75 percent of Carroll County where schools are overcrowded," Mettle said. "It is not fair to ask residents to pay more taxes and support bond issues if we're not going to control growth."

Unlike Mettle, C. Scott Stone, president of the Carroll school board, said he was unaware of Brown's plans until he read about the effort in The Sun on Friday.

Stone said the school board and the commissioners met to discuss school construction issues last week, two days before Brown made his announcement. Brown, he said, made no mention of his proposal to rescind the tax increase.

"It's hard for me to fathom," he said.

Stone also questioned Brown's April 1 deadline for the school-funding commission to make a recommendation. Brown wants the panel to include representatives from county government, the school board, planning commission, the Economic Development Commission and the Chamber of Commerce.

"It is extremely aggressive for any commission to be assembled, acclimated, touch base with all parties, and prepare recommendations within two months," Stone said. School construction is "an emotional, elaborate subject."

Helen C. Utz, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, and Thomas G. Hiltz, planning commission chairman, support the appointment of a school-funding commission.

"I think it is very important for the business community to be represented in this type of group," Utz said.

Hiltz said the county needs to start wrestling with some of the policies pertaining to school construction.

"We need to look at alternatives to new construction, like redistributing students and redistricting. There are lots of possibilities," he said.

Linda Murphy, president of the County Council of PTAs, said a commission could be effective as long as members remember the "ultimate goal of quality education and quality learning environment" for Carroll school children.

"Adequate facilities, adequate supplies, quality teachers are all things that our students need to get a quality education," she said. "I'm not sure what the best way to do that is. But I do know that we owe it to them as adults to produce it for them."

Pub Date: 2/10/97

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