Residents say transfer tax plan is not fair

Commissioners seek right to impose home sales fee

`Everyone should pay for it'

Funds would aid schools and emergency services

Carroll County

December 04, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners' plan to levy a transfer tax as a means to pay for an increasing demand on government services was criticized by some residents at a public hearing last night.

About 45 people - a dozen of them wearing buttons that read "Stop Transfer Tax" - attended the meeting to discuss the commissioners' legislative proposals for the coming General Assembly session. The hearing turned contentious over the transfer tax.

Residents who opposed the transfer tax said the commissioners had already increased the rate of the county's piggyback income tax and the recordation tax. Some objected to a transfer tax that would affect a small percentage of county residents instead of all residents sharing the burden of paying for government services.

"I understand the monetary needs," said Cynthia Foley, 47, of Silver Run. "But I don't get the logic. If I move out of the county, how does that impact growth? If we need all those services, everyone in the county should pay for it."

This is the second straight year the county commissioners have asked for the power to impose a transfer tax on home sales. Carroll is one of seven counties without a transfer tax, officials said.

The commissioners say they want people who would benefit from development to pay for increased costs rather than raise property tax for all homeowners. An increase in the property tax would affect 57,000 households as opposed to about 2,000 for a transfer tax, said Ted Zaleski, the county's director of management and budget.

The transfer tax "does not impact all citizens of the county," Zaleski said. An increase in the property tax, meanwhile, "affects every homeowner, every year, year after year."

Responding to comments that the transfer tax would eventually affect all residents, Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said, "We are accountable to you to pay the bills. That's why we're bending over backward to give you this kind of a tax instead of an increase in property tax."

Language in the proposed bill says revenue from the 1 percent transfer tax could only be used for school, police, fire and emergency services. The fee would generate about $5 million annually, Zaleski said.

But in order to gain the taxing authority, the commissioners need approval from the General Assembly. A similar request failed last year, and the commissioners could again face opposition from the county's all-Republican, fiscally conservative delegation. Sen. Larry E. Haines, the county delegation leader, has said that he's opposed to any tax increase.

That hasn't stopped the commissioners and their staff from trying to rally support for the transfer tax. They have spent the past few months arguing for the need for increased revenues at community meetings across the county.

On Monday, Steven D. Powell, the county's chief of staff, appealed to the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association to support the county's push for a transfer tax.

Firefighters said they would support the tax on the condition that the extra revenue is used first for fire and emergency services. Firefighters said that they did not want to be pushed out of the distribution of money by the police or schools.

Another proposal back for a second time is one that would allow the county greater power to recoup from developers the cost of road projects.

This is another tool the commissioners want to use in having new development pay for increasing demand for services.

Under the proposal, the county could build roads and then recoup some of the costs from developers when houses are built near them.

Other requests include:

A proposal to change a state law to allow Carroll County fire departments to hold more fund-raising raffles.

A proposal to collect court-ordered abatement costs for zoning and permit violations as a special tax.

An amendment in the nuisance-abatement law in which weeds on agricultural land would not be considered a nuisance.

A bond authorization request for capital improvement projects for next fiscal year.

The commissioners are scheduled to meet Dec. 17 with members of the county's delegation to discuss the list of legislative proposals.

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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