Modify the tax cap

Arundel: Citizens should support effort to loosen the tight restriction on important revenue source.

April 04, 2000

A RECENT Anne Arundel Community College poll found that most citizens are unaware of the county's tax cap. But the cap deserves their attention because some fine-tuning is needed.

Voters passed the measure in 1992 to stop the county from raising property taxes by too much in a year. In many years over the past decade, the cap has limited tax increases to the rate of inflation -- rarely more than 4 percent.

That low ceiling has slowly eroded the county's infrastructure and services.

A number of school buildings are in a state of disrepair. County Executive Janet S. Owens sent a nice chunk of money to the schools capital budget, but the needs are astronomical. Also, county firefighters are complaining, with some justification, that they are paid far less than their peers elsewhere. But the tax cap makes it unwise for the county to bring them up to par, although firefighters are threatening to leave for other jurisdictions. Arundel also ranks near the bottom in teachers' pay. Bringing their salaries up the scale is tough with limited revenue.

A group of county residents, Citizens for a Competitive Anne Arundel County, has started a petition drive to change the cap.

As it stands, the county's property tax revenue can increase no more than 4.5 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The proposal would let property taxes increase 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is greater.

Years of low inflation have meant minute increases in the total amount the county can collect. The citizens group is trying to collect 10,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot in November. Residents will decide.

Retired Anne Arundel Community College President Thomas Florestano, a former school board member, said the effort to modify the cap is an "upstream struggle." But a change that would help the county pay for its needs is a struggle worth fighting for.

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