Special tax districts proposed for schools Plan goes before House delegation this morning

February 14, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Crofton-style special tax districts could be used to boost school spending under a controversial plan being offered by former Anne Arundel County school board President Michael A. Pace.

The Edgewater lawyer is to propose to the county's House delegation this morning a plan to allow sections of the county to create districts to levy property taxes in addition to the county's taxes to raise money for neighborhood schools.

Pace said his plan would provide a way around the county's tax cap. But critics say it would widen the gap in education resources between rich and poor areas, between areas where people want to funnel money to schools and where they don't.

"What I am hoping for is that it is not immediately killed," Pace said, acknowledging that his plan is controversial. "What I am hoping is that it can be referred for summer study."

Pace, whose five-year term on the school board ends in June, described his plan as "modest."

In a tax district the size of a county council district, for example, a nickel increase in the tax rate of $2.38 per $100 of assessed value would add $29.50 to the average homeowner's annual tax bill and raise $44,250 that year for each of 15 schools in the district.

Pace said the tax districts would have to be at least as big as a councilmanic district for economic balance.

"At this point, it's more of a proposal to start thinking of creative ways to solve problems. It's more brainstorming," said Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican and delegation chairman. He admitted, however, that he is concerned about whether the plan would increase disparities between rich and poor areas.

He said the proposal might be worth studying over the summer, but that he doubted legislators would be willing to get involved in the inevitable fight over such a bill next year, in the last General Assembly session before an election.

The county would need enabling legislation from the General Assembly to establish such districts, and the legislation could not be approved without support from the county delegation.

Pace said his proposal was consistent with the county's four-year-old tax cap, which has the potential to strangle the county financially.

"It provides citizens with control over a special tax, whether they will be taxed, how much they will be taxed, and how the money will be spent," he said.

A disparity already exists in the amount of money parent groups raise for schools. Some PTAs have $30,000-a-year budgets. Others raise one-tenth of that.

School board member Paul G. Rudolph of Severna Park argued that the tax districts would increase inequality among schools.

"The wealthier neighborhoods will be able to supply more money and the poorer ones won't," he said "What are you accomplishing, except getting around the tax cap?"

Board President Joseph H. Foster said Pace's idea is "worth exploring," though he is troubled by it.

"You can't allow everyone to decide how they are going to spend the money. You would have utter chaos. You would have to define certain criteria up front," he said.

He said the county is "headed toward a two-tiered system" in which residents would pay a tax to support public schools and another to support the rest of the county government.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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