Tax increase proposed for county seat 6-cent rise in rate on property discussed in budget session

'We have to do it'

City officials say delaying it means higher costs later

April 18, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Last year they talked about a nickel increase. Now Westminster City Council members are considering raising property taxes by 6 cents -- primarily to meet demands for road improvements.

The cost of these improvements will only increase if they're postponed, city officials said last week after a budget work session. A 6-cent increase would raise the property tax rate from 83 cents to 89 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The increase for the average house would be about $2 to $3 a month, city officials said.

"Last year we talked about it; this year we feel we have to do it," said Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the finance committee, which will present a proposed budget April 28. The city's operating budget is about $6.4 million, with another $6 million spent on water and sewer. Water and sewer rates are not expected to change.

"Last year, we decided to hold off for another year," he said, because Carroll County's property taxes increased. "But you can't let the infrastructure go too long, or the cost of fixing it gets enormous."

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, a physicist, used a dental metaphor: An unfilled cavity turns into a full root canal and crown.

"Could we put this off for another year? Sure we could," Yowan said. "Is it the wise thing to do? No question: probably not."

The city also wants to time its road work to coincide with state projects such as West Main Street improvements and with underground utility work, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works.

This year's road-improvement proposals were cut from more than $300,000 to less than $125,000, city officials said.

To keep the current tax rate, Pecoraro said deep cuts would have been required again -- and again delayed road projects such as Uniontown Road, Englar Road, Carroll Street and John Street.

Residents have been calling City Hall to ask for these improvements, Westminster officials said.

In addition to the road projects -- which would take five of the 6 cents -- the city needs another penny to make up its three-year $100,000 pledge to the Westminster volunteer fire department for its new building.

Meanwhile, the city's property-tax revenue has flattened as a result of static or reduced assessments and slowed construction, the officials said.

For Westminster, each 1-cent increase generates about $33,400, Pecoraro said. Hence the 6-cent figure, which would generate the needed $200,000-plus.

"If you really can't afford it," Yowan said, "we're not going to fall off the end of the Earth -- but eventually you're going to have to do it and if you do it now, it will cost a little less, because these costs just go up exponentially."

City residents also pay a county property tax of $2.62 per $100 of assessed value. There is no adjustment for those who live in incorporated areas.

In Sykesville, property taxes could drop for the second consecutive year, as its revenue continues to grow from increasing assessment values and new homes.

Mayor Jonathan S. Herman's proposed budget would lower the tax rate by 2 cents, to 77 cents per $100 of assessed value. Last year, town officials reduced taxes by 4 cents and set the rate at 79 cents.

Westminster's proposed budget for the 1998 fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be presented April 28, with a public hearing at 7 p.m. May 5.

The council will vote on the budget May 12 -- the same day as the city's election, in which Yowan and two councilmen are running unopposed for re-election.

As a councilman in 1991, the mayor was among those who lowered the rate from 91 cents to 83 cents.

"If you look back to 1991," he said, "assessments had been increasing in the years before that. We felt it was the prudent thing to do: that if we were getting more revenue in those years, we should give some back -- and we held it for six years."

Some purchases can be delayed, such as large equipment, Yowan said, because the cost doesn't increase that much from year to year.

"But roads are such an animal that a lot of times the deterioration can accelerate -- and then the cost is much higher. It's 6 cents now, vs. 8 or 10 or 12 cents later.

"Roads are something you have to do," he said.

If a tax increase goes through, he predicted, "We're going to be in reasonably good shape for a number of years to come.

"We discussed this last year at the work session, but the general sentiment was because the county had just enacted the 27-cent increase, we didn't want to add to that at that time -- so we sort of bit the bullet.

"The basic problem is the assessments have remained fairly flat for several years," Yowan said. "We've been operating with the same revenue for three years in a row. Unfortunately, prices haven't stayed at the same level."

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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