Property tax plan assailed by GOP

Democrats would raise levy to provide more money for education

May 18, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

At a hearing last night in Ellicott City, Howard County Republicans attacked a proposal by County Council Democrats to raise the property tax rate 2 cents to provide extra funds for education.

County GOP party Chairman Louis Pope of Laurel called the proposal a "horrible precedent."

Gregory Fox, first vice president of the Howard County Republican Club and unsuccessful County Council candidate last year, assailed Democrats as "tax and spend liberals."

At the hearing, which was sparsely attended, the council's two GOP members announced plans to introduce a budget amendment that would cut the spending of other agencies to raise money for education.

No one opposed giving more money to county schools -- the aim of the proposed tax increase.

"We all support increased school funding," Pope said.

But Pope agreed with GOP freshmen council members Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of the western county that cutting the budgets of all county agencies by less than two-thirds of 1 percent would provide the extra funds for schools.

Merdon and Kittleman would provide the extra funds in a proposed budget bill amendment to cut all county departments except education.

"The county's coffers are overflowing with new revenue," the freshmen legislators said in a prepared statement. They expressed concern that a tax increase could become an annual occurrence.

Council Vice Chairman Mary C. Lorsung of West Columbia, one of three Democrats on the five-member council, said Merdon's and Kittleman's proposal was "not responsible. I'm not going to support it."

Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, another Democrat, noted that the county's 3-year-old trash tax -- which equals a 16-cent property tax increase -- was imposed by former Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker and a Republican-controlled council.

Ecker cut the local share of the state income tax last year.

There has been no increase in the general county property tax rate since 1991, when it was raised 14 cents during the recession. The annual $125 per house trash tax was imposed in 1996.

If the current county property tax rate of $2.59 per $100 of assessed value remains unchanged, state assessment increases and growth would produce an estimated $12 million more in revenue next fiscal year. Thus, the county tax rate could be cut 8 cents and still produce the same amount of revenue as this year.

But Howard taxpayers could end up paying more in fiscal year 2000, which begins July 1.

In his proposed $683 million budget, Democratic County Executive James N. Robey is seeking a 3-cent increase in the fire tax and council Democrats 2 cents for new education programs.

In Howard, fire services are paid for with a separate property tax levy of 19 cents in the rural western county and 24 cents in the more congested eastern county. Robey has proposed increasing those rates to 22 cents and 27 cents, respectively.

The council has set a final vote for May 26 on Robey's proposed budget.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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