Panel eyes raising taxes on property

Officials anticipate `significant' gap in revenue, expenses

`It's going to be difficult'

Rate increase would be city's first since 1997

March 26, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Faced with an anticipated shortfall in revenue and an increase in expenses, the Westminster Common Council might be forced to raise property taxes - the city's first increase in five years.

"Right now there's a pretty wide gap between our anticipated revenues for the coming year and the budget requests that have been submitted by department heads," Councilman Gregory Pecoraro said yesterday.

Pecoraro, finance chairman for the council, told the mayor and his colleagues at a meeting last night that the gap was "significant." He attributed it to a downturn in the economy coupled with the city's growth.

Actual budget figures for the 2003 fiscal year, which begins July 1, won't be available until April 15.

"It's going to be difficult to surmount that gap just with cuts," he said. "It may be time to look at our current tax rate."

Westminster's budget for fiscal 2002 was $17.3 million. The city's tax rate is 35.2 cents per hundred dollars of assessed real estate value. The city was expecting to bring in $3,435,000 in property tax revenues for 2002.

The last time the city raised taxes was in 1997, Pecoraro said.

The council will discuss a possible tax increase at a budget work session April 15. It is expected to introduce the budget and tax ordinance for the city at a meeting April 22 and hold a public hearing on the budget May 6. The budget could be adopted as soon as May 13.

In other business, the city held a public hearing on annexation of the Roop's Mill property, a 90-acre site west of The Greens subdivision.

The property owners have requested residential zoning for the parcel, the location of a historic mill. They may later seek commercial zoning for a portion of the land so that they can open a restaurant in the mill, according to David K. Bowersox, a Westminster attorney representing the owners.

The city has drilled for water on the property during the past year and has a well that produces 135,000 gallons a day on the site. If the land were annexed, the well would become city property at no cost to the government, according to planning and public works director Thomas B. Beyard.

About 10 people spoke at the hearing, many expressing concern about the effect annexation would have on the area's water supply, traffic and school enrollment.

Also last night, the council heard a presentation from developers about annexing a 146-acre property on Old Westminster Pike. Owners of the land, known as the Naganna property, want to build 350 single-family homes on the land. The property is not on the list of those the city has designated for annexation.

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