Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

February 02, 2003

Executive explains transfer-tax proposal

An open letter to the Citizens of Howard County:

It is not easy or pleasant to propose an increase in taxes; however, in early January, I asked members of Howard County's Annapolis delegation to take the necessary steps to increase the county's transfer tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent in order for us to adequately fund our public school system.

The proceeds from the increase in this tax, which is only paid by people who are buying or selling a home, would be dedicated solely to school construction.

I recognize, and willingly accept, that any funding proposal that involves raising additional revenue will have its critics. However, I also recognize that the high quality of our public education system has been and will continue to be pivotal to the county's success in general, and to those who choose to do business here.

Finding an alternative means to supplement the funding of education is the right thing to do for the future of Howard County.

It's the right thing to do for our children ... both those who live here now and those who will continue to move here because their parents want to afford them the best public education possible. And it's the right thing to do for our community as a whole.

I believe it would be unconscionable if those of us in positions of public trust were to put our schools in jeopardy. Given the coming year's preliminary budget numbers and revenue projections, it is unlikely that we can prevent that risk unless we identify an additional funding source. Failure to find such a solution leaves us with one of two alternatives:

1) Cut projects that relate to schools, as well as others that impact the community at-large including libraries, senior centers and training facilities for police and firefighters; or

2) Approve the same projects and increase our general fund debt and potentially endanger Howard County's triple A bond rating and the lower interest rates that it affords us.

In finding a funding solution, I believe it is imperative that it be tied to a revenue mechanism that is predictable enough to provide a sustainable level of funding into the future.

That is why I chose an increase in the transfer tax as my solution. I believe it is the most effective and equitable way to evenly offset the fiscal impact of school enrollment growth.

A recent analysis revealed that half of the new students coming into the system were from families who had moved into newly built homes. The other half was from families who had moved into existing housing.

Taking this into consideration it was determined that, unless a revenue source could encompass the sale of existing housing, it would place a disproportionate burden for enrollment growth on new homebuyers and existing residents.

The transfer tax is the only funding mechanism that allows us to avoid this situation because it generates revenue from both sources of enrollment growth - new residential construction and the resale of existing housing.

Obviously, the proposal has received criticism, primarily from the Realtors' lobby. Their points are well taken and were considered prior to my decision to use the transfer tax. These arguments aside, the fact remains that the choices before the county and its elected representatives are simple:

1) Approve the transfer tax proposal;

2) Offer a viable alternative funding proposal that I would be happy to assist in developing (recognizing it too will have critics);

3) Increase the county's debt; or

4) Not fund the requested level of projects for schools, and other projects that benefit the community such as libraries, senior centers, and training facilities for police and firefighters.

I am writing this letter because it is important for the public to understand that the issue at hand is paramount to our community's continued well-being.

A public hearing will be held on the transfer tax issue Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Banneker Room in Ellicott City. I will be there to impress upon the Annapolis delegation the consequences of their votes. I encourage residents to join me and do the same.

I hope everyone will weigh the options I have outlined here and let their representatives in Annapolis know what they believe is best for our children and our county.

Call, write or attend next Thursday's meeting to let the Delegation members hear your position and how they need to vote to best represent the views of you and your families.

Jim Robey

Howard County Executive

HCAR member backs Robey decision

The board of the Howard County Association of REALTORS has taken a strong and clear position opposing the proposed increase in property transfer tax to pay for new school construction.

As a REALTOR and a member of HCAR, I have a difference of opinion with my association's board that I would like to share. Here are the five reasons for their opposition the HCAR Board presents followed by my thoughts on the subject.

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