Commissioners told plan to cut taxes came too late Yates drops support for 16% decrease

February 19, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll residents will not be getting a tax cut this year, a proposal that appeared to be a virtual certainty just 13 days ago.

Lawyers have advised the County Commissioners that the tax-cutting measure came too late to take effect this year. And yesterday, Commissioner Richard T. Yates withdrew his support for the proposed 16 percent decrease in the so-called piggyback tax, the county's share of state income tax revenue.

An 11-member commission, created last week to deal with a possible loss of income tax revenue, will meet for the first time tomorrow to begin reviewing school construction needs and recommend funding alternatives.

The panel is 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 each 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.

The tax cut picture looked very different Feb. 6 when Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he wanted to roll back the increase in the piggyback tax rate he and Commissioner Donald I. Dell had approved in 1995. The rate was 50 percent of an individual's state tax liability then. It is 58 percent now.

Brown and Dell hoped to use the more than $45 million in anticipated revenue from the tax increase to build eight new schools by 2001 -- with state help.

But since the state apparently will provide less school construction money than county officials had hoped, Brown said the 19-month-old piggyback tax rate should be cut and replaced by another method of funding.

Brown's tax rollback plan began to unravel last week when Dell and a budget analyst questioned when the tax cut could take effect and whether it could be approved without a public hearing.

The county's legal staff said a public hearing was not needed, but they told the commissioners that the income tax increase couldn't be rescinded until Jan. 1 because income tax collection is based on the calendar year.

Brown suggested that the rollback idea be put on hold for 60 rTC days to give the newly created school funding commission time to study the proposal.

But Yates and Dell would have none of it.

Yates blamed the 16 percent increase in 1995 on Brown and Dell and called on them to remedy it. "If the increase is rolled back, it should be up to the two that voted for it. They're the two that caused all the grief. And they're the two that should end it," he said.

Dell also refused to second the tax cut proposal, saying: "This is too big a project to have one [commissioner] do this and not discuss it with all three before it happens."

Further, Dell said, support for Brown's proposal "might drive a wedge between us and the [state] Board of Public Works." The three-member board is responsible for deciding which jurisdictions get state school funding.

Brown noted that the Board of Public Works 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.

But Dell said yesterday he has assurances that most of the aid for Francis Scott Key will be forthcoming. He said the county's only choice is to use the estimated $7.5 million a year generated by the current piggyback tax, combined with state aid, to build schools.

Issuing more municipal bonds to make up for revenues lost by rescinding the income tax rate, as Brown proposes, would lead to even higher taxes and fewer services, Dell said.

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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