Tax games in Annapolis Anne Arundel County: In election year, City Council will try to shave pennies off the rate.

April 15, 1997

ANNAPOLIS MAYOR Alfred O. Hopkins is proposing a budget that keeps the city's tax rate at its current level and maintains services -- often a trick these days. Members of the council, a number of them interested in succeeding Mr. Hopkins as mayor next fall, plan to top this by coming up with a budget that may shave a few cents off the city's tax rate. You can be sure council members will heartily congratulate themselves on their accomplishment.

All this gamesmanship is possible only because Anne Arundel County government is prepared to maintain the tax differential with the city at its current level.

The differential is the amount the county forgives in taxes to city residents for services the city provides from its own taxes, such as police protection. The differential allows Annapolis aldermen to shift the blame on tax increases to the county and take credit for any decrease.

Last year, when the differential was reduced by eight cents, meaning city taxpayers got a smaller credit from the county, there followed predictable outcry from city politicians -- and a telling silence from taxpayers.

The reduced differential meant that the average Annapolis homeowner had to pay about $64 more in county real property taxes, but that didn't stop several Annapolis politicians from portraying John Gary as the 20th-century reincarnation of King George III. Council members tried to squeeze as much mileage as possible out of the meager increase. They even filed a suit against the county. It was promptly dismissed.

This year, Mr. Gary is not in the picture. Tired of serving as a political punching bag for Annapolis officials, he dumped the issue on his fiscal officers. They are negotiating the rate with their counterparts from the city. Because they are working from a set formula, there should be less opportunity for grandstanding.

As much as the council might want to cut taxes, there will be little leeway on the revenue side. Annapolis is expected to receive about $165,000 less in federal transportation funds, and real property assessments are static. Chipping away at the tax rate may prove beneficial for would-be mayors of Annapolis, who figure they can always raise it later, but risky for the rest of Maryland's capital city.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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