Council meets for first time since the death of Klocko

Members express sorrow

property tax bill debated

October 15, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In their first meeting since the death of colleague John J. Klocko III, Anne Arundel County Council members expressed their sympathy for Klocko's family before moving on to business and debating a complex bill aimed at cutting property taxes for some residents.

Council members paused at the beginning of the meeting yesterday afternoon to remember Klocko, 45, who was killed in a two-car accident Oct. 5 in Utah. The council met yesterday to make up for an Oct. 7 session that was canceled because of Klocko's death.

"We are shattered," said Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat from Annapolis, who sat next to Klocko's empty chair yesterday. "We are filled with so much pain over our loss of John Klocko. Sometimes our grief is overwhelming."

Council members confirmed that they will not fill Klocko's seat but will leave it empty until the general election as a tribute. Council Chairman Bill D. Burlison, a Democrat from Odenton, added that, since the council has only one more meeting before the election, there was insufficient time to appoint a replacement.

Council members spent much of the two-hour session trying to wrap up legislation before the election-year deadline. Six of seven council members are running for re-election. County law prohibits elected officials from adopting legislation near the end of their four-year term in order to guard against lame-duck decisions.

A homeowner tax credit bill proposed by County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat from Millersville who also is seeking re-election, was discussed at some length. County officials said the legislation was proposed in part to help residents hit hard by sharp increases in their property value assessment.

However, county Auditor Teresa Sutherland testified that the bill could unfairly saddle business owners and other homeowners with higher property taxes. She said that if the bill was intended to target fixed-income seniors or low-income residents, its goal might not be met. Renters and seniors whose properties haven't significantly increased in value would not benefit. Some older homeowners, depending on where they live, might pay higher property taxes, Sutherland said.

State law requires that local jurisdictions establish "homestead property tax credit" programs in order to protect homeowners from excessive taxation. Properties that have been sold or undergone a zoning change during the previous year are not eligible.

The Owens administration is proposing a 2 percent limit on the increase to an eligible homeowner's taxable assessment in any given year, down from the current 4 percent limit. The reduction would have no effect on the county's property tax revenue.

Council members expressed concern that businesses could be hurt by the legislation and decided to hold off on a vote until their next regular meeting Monday.

"I'm not clear on the public policy benefit here," said Samorajczyk, "or who you are selecting to receive the benefit."

The council voted on several other bills, including one to establish new zoning laws in the Severn area as part of the county's comprehensive rezoning process, and another to add commercial revitalization areas to the local zoning code.

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