Howard budget calls for tax increase

April 22, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's income tax rates would jump from Maryland's third-lowest to the legal limit while county workers could get a 4 percent pay raise in the $892.4 million budget proposed yesterday by County Executive James N. Robey.

Robey's plan represents the largest tax increase by far yet requested by any of Maryland's seven largest jurisdictions, and would cost $521 more per year for a family with the county's median gross household income of $83,100, if it is approved by the County Council.

Combined with state property tax increases, rising assessments and higher lien fees for Columbia residents, the total tax bill could jump by more than $1,000 for many Howard County families.

"We've been able to keep our taxes low, and the clock has run out," said Robey, a Democrat, before presenting his plan to the council last night.

Howard has never raised the income tax rate and actually reduced it slightly five years ago. Robey is asking to raise the rate from 2.45 percent to the maximum 3.2 percent - the highest allowable rate in Maryland. That would help fund a budget 9.35 percent larger ($48.2 million) in locally funded spending.

David S. Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said, "Keep in mind that during the past four years, 19 of Maryland's 24 subdivisions have raised taxes, and you've had a significant number raise property and income taxes. Howard has been able to forestall the inevitable for some time."

County workers are assured a 2 percent pay raise, he said, and will get 4 percent if the state doesn't cut any more local aid. Robey said he is holding back $7.5 million against possible cuts that could come if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, vetoes a package of $135 million in new state taxes approved by the General Assembly.

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