Commissioners revisit plan to cut tax rate Rollback is unlikely to take effect this year

February 18, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners, who tabled a tax cut proposal a week ago because of legal issues, plan to discuss the measure again this morning.

The proposal, first aired by Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown at a news conference Feb. 6, would repeal the 16 percent increase in the county's income tax rate approved by the commissioners in 1995 to raise money to build new schools.

The so-called piggyback tax is a percentage of a person's state income tax liability. In Carroll, the percentage is 58 percent, and Brown would like to scale that back to 50 percent.

Brown and Commissioner Donald I. Dell raised the rate to 58 percent on 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.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who did not support the increase, seconded Brown's motion Feb. 10 to roll back the tax rate. But the commissioners voted to table the measure after Dell and budget analyst Ted Zaleski raised legal issues.

Dell said he doubted that the commissioners could approve a rollback without first conducting a public hearing on the measure. Zaleski said he doubted that the rollback could take effect July 1, as Brown hoped, since a new tax year has already begun.

The rollback probably could not happen until Jan. 1, Zaleski said. The county operates on a fiscal year basis -- July 1 to June 30 -- but except in special circumstances, the government collects taxes on a calendar year basis.

Discussion of the rollback is scheduled to resume today at 8: 30 a.m.

Meanwhile, a companion proposal adopted by the commissioners last week is sparking fireworks among members of the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

The County Commissioners agreed Feb. 10 to appoint an 11-member panel to review school construction needs and recommend funding alternatives.

The panel is to be comprised of three members of the school board, two members of the planning commission, two representatives of the towns most affected by development, and one representative from the county Economic Development Commission, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the local chapter of the Home Builders' Association of Maryland, and the Carroll County Taxpayers' Association.

L Each group is to choose its own representative to the panel.

Planning commission Vice-Chairman Joseph H. Mettle lobbied hard to become a member, but was not selected.

"I have no more right to be a member than anyone else," Mettle said. "But the way the selection was made concerns me."

He and fellow slow-growth advocate Grant S. Dannelly asked to be considered as members of the panel along with planning commission members Melvin E. Baile Jr., Deborah L. Ridgely and Robin M. Frazier. Chairman Thomas G. Hiltz appointed Baile and Ridgely. In a Feb. 14 letter to the commissioners, Hiltz noted that Mettle and Dannelly had applied along with Frazier.

Hiltz "strongly recommended" that Frazier be added as an alternate or that the funding commission be expanded to include her, but was mute about Dannelly and Mette.

Dannelly said he was "puzzled by why [Hiltz] forwarded only three of the five names" to the County Commissioners rather than send all five and let the commissioners decide whom to appoint.

Mettle saw something more sinister -- an attempt to derail the slow-growth agenda that he and Dannelly espouse.

"I was told I carry too much baggage," Mettle said. "But the only baggage I carry is the people -- the will, the prayers, the hopes of the people to keep their taxes down."

If either he or Dannelly had been appointed to the commission, they would have counseled against a tax increase and called instead for a building moratorium in high-growth areas and a more leisurely timetable for school construction, Mettle said.

"Grant and I have been outspoken critics of the school budget. We're not welcome," he said. "I'm not unhappy with the choices [of Baile and Ridgely], but they have not been tested under fire like Grant and I have with the builders and the school board."

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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