Transfer tax proposal given almost no chance Delegate listens to commissioners' legislative agenda

October 28, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners got some blunt talk yesterday from Del. Ellen L. Willis of Westminster.

They are unlikely to get General Assembly approval to hold a referendum on whether voters want to tax real estate transfers, she said.

A tax of 1 percent or less -- which would be paid at the time of settlement -- is necessary, the commissioners say, for the county to achieve its goal of keeping 100,000 rural acres out of development.

The 1 percent transfer tax would raise an estimated $4 million a year for the county's agricultural land preservation program.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said voters would support such a tax, but he is not likely to find out, Willis said.

Willis, the only Democrat in the county's Annapolis delegation, said she would probably be the only county legislator to support the referendum. The delegation killed a similar proposal last year, and she expects members to do it again.

"You're going to have to work on this one," she told the commissioners.

The request is included in the seven-piece legislative agenda the commissioners want the delegation to enact at the General Assembly session that begins in January.

Usually, the commissioners wait until November to share their legislative agenda with the delegation, but this year they are lobbying delegation members individually in a series of breakfast meetings.

Yates asked for the change, he said, because, "when we get together in a group, there is a lot of posturing. And this is an election year."

Informal breakfast meetings will foster more dialogue, Yates said. "We can tell them what we need and see if they feel the same way," he said.

Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale will have breakfast with the commissioners this morning. State Sen. Larry E. Haines will join them Friday.

Except for the referendum request and a bond bill -- which is enacted each year as a courtesy to local officials -- Willis was noncommittal yesterday, preferring instead to listen and take notes on the commissioners' proposals.

If enacted, the proposals would:

Remove a clause in state law that allows the county planning commission to make adequate-facilities tests part of the subdivision process.

Allow the liquor board to recoup hearing expenses by imposing fines when suspending a liquor license.

Prevent purchasers at tax sales from billing "dubious expenses" to property owners.

Allow property owners with agricultural easements to cut timber without having to file a declaration of intent with the state forestry service.

Ask Carroll voters whether the Board of County Commissioners should continue to have three members.

Five members vs. three

Willis was curious about the last item because the delegation got a measure enacted last year that will let voters decide in the next election whether to expand the board to five members.

The delegation's measure was designed to undermine a voter referendum on a change to a county executive-county council system known as charter government, Willis said.

Yates -- who along with Donald I. Dell sponsored the current three-member proposal -- said voters might misunderstand the five-commissioner measure and vote for it out of ignorance. He wants voters to have the option of voting to keep the current three-member commission government.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who was ill and did not attend yesterday's breakfast, has said that he found Yates' proposal redundant and unnecessary.

Willis said the delegation's five-commissioner proposal enacted last year is written in such a way that if both it and charter government are approved next year, charter government will prevail.

Liquor board Chairman Romeo Valianti told Willis that the board wants to be able to cover the costs of its hearings by combining fines with license suspensions. The board may fine violators or suspend licenses now, but it may not do both.

"Taxpayers should not bear the brunt" of paying for license suspension hearings that are often prolonged and expensive, Valianti said. The proposed change would allow the board to recoup the costs of its hearings, he told Willis.

County Attorney George A. Lahey told Willis that the planning commission will no longer need to review adequate-facilities criteria now that the county commissioners are writing an adequate-facilities law. The commissioners expect to enact the law before the end of the year.

The county also wants to give additional protection to landowners whose property is sold at auctions for nonpayment of property taxes, Lahey said. Increasingly, conglomerates and consortiums see property tax sales as high-yield, short-term investment opportunities, he said.

Owners in arrears, many of them elderly, often pay their taxes eventually and retain their property, Lahey said. But they must reimburse investors for services such as title searches and pay investors high interest rates on the outstanding debt.

The bill, which is law in 14 other counties and Baltimore, would prevent tax sale investors from charging for services incurred in the first four months of the tax sale.

Red tape targeted

The timber bill would remove some red tape for landowners in the county's land preservation program, Lahey said. State law now requires anyone harvesting timber or clearing land to reforest the land or sign a declaration of intent saying he does not intend to develop the property.

Because property owners in the agricultural land preservation program have agreed not to develop their property, they should be exempt from the reforestation requirement when harvesting trees or clearing land, Lahey said.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on their legislative requests 7: 30 p.m. Thursday at the Westminster Senior Activities Center. They will meet with the entire delegation next month.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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