Executive to propose tax boost

Property rate increase would bring in $5.6 million

Maximum raise allowed

Owners would pay 4 cents more per $100 of assessed value

April 26, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Faced with a bevy of school maintenance needs and new employee contracts, County Executive Janet S. Owens will seek the first increase in the local property tax rate since 1996, according to several County Council members.

Council members expect Owens to propose raising the rate by 4 cents per $100 of assessed value -- or 1.7 percent -- when she unveils her 2000-2001 budget request Monday.

That is the maximum allowed under the terms of a revenue cap passed by voter referendum in 1992.

A spokesman for Owens said she would make no comment on the budget until Monday. The council must approve the county budget by the end of next month.

Tax assessments are based on 40 percent of a property's value. For the owner of a house worth $200,000, a 4-cent increase would add $32 to the tax bill mailed in July. For the county, such an increase would generate about $5.6 million.

Anne Arundel's current rate is $2.36 per $100 of assessed value. Annapolis residents, who receive limited county services, pay a lower rate of $1.35 -- in addition to the city's tax at a $1.68 rate. It was not clear yesterday whether an increase would be sought in the county rate for Annapolitans.

In an early positive sign for Owens, a Democrat, some council members are embracing the idea of a higher tax rate, saying the money is badly needed.

"That can take care of some raises, for instance," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat. "It almost renovates Cape St. Claire [Elementary] School. That's a $6 million project."

School repairs in the county would cost $400 million to complete, and Owens has made that a top priority.

On the salary front, the three-year, 17 percent wage increase Owens recently gave police officers will cost $3.5 million. The county has reached contract agreements -- or is trying to do so -- with six other unions.

Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat, said: "I don't think it's going to be hard to prove to the citizens of this county the need to raise the taxes 4 cents."

But the chairman of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, Robert C. Schaeffer, opposes any increase.

"Property tax is the most pernicious of all taxes because it hurts people on fixed incomes -- in other words, it hurts the aging and widows," said Schaeffer, a Severna Park Republican. He called it "the great irony" that Owens, who ran the county Department of Aging, would support a tax increase.

Schaeffer authored the revenue cap language, which says that the county's revenue from property taxes cannot grow from year to year by more than the rate of inflation or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

Since 1994, the rate for most county homeowners has fluctuated a few pennies up and down, although the rate for Annapolitans has risen from $1.15 to $1.35.

Opponents of the tax cap say it has deprived the county of millions of dollars and contributed to the deterioration of schools and other problems. One analysis estimated that the limit cost the county $56 million between 1994 and 1996. Property taxes pay for more than 40 percent of the county's operating expenses.

In some years, though, the council and executive did not push property taxes to the limit. "We've lost the value of that money forever," Klosterman said.

Taking full advantage this year seems particularly beneficial to him in light of jitters on the stock market and signs that the economy may be weakening.

"When that tanks, we're in trouble," Klosterman said, adding that the county's $21 million rainy day fund will only go so far.

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