Home sales tax bill opposed

Commissioners seek transfer fee to help pay for schools, services

`Making growth pay for growth'

But senator, delegate suggest budget cuts

Carroll County

December 18, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Members of Carroll's legislative delegation voiced strong resistance yesterday to the commissioners' proposal to impose a transfer tax, saying that county government should instead look to its own budget to curb costs.

Sen. Larry E. Haines and Del. Carmen Amedori debated the issue for an hour with Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich, also Republicans, during a meeting to discuss the commissioners' legislative requests for the General Assembly session.

On more than one occasion, the talks turned testy. At one point, Minnich told Amedori, "The spirit of cooperation you talked about [earlier] seems to be evaporating."

The commissioners want the power to levy a transfer tax on home sales to pay for an increasing demand on schools and emergency services. They have argued that the tax would have those who benefit from development pay for increased costs, rather than all property owners who might be affected by a property tax increase.

Language in the proposed bill says revenue from the 1 percent transfer tax could only be used for schools, police, fire and emergency services. The fee would generate about $5 million annually, according to Ted Zaleski, the county's director of management and budget.

"This board is interested in making growth pay for growth," said Zaleski, who presented the transfer tax bill to the delegation yesterday.

The commissioners, however, cannot charge a transfer tax without approval from the General Assembly, and Haines, the delegation leader, made clear his opposition.

Based on his calculations, Haines said, the transfer tax would generate $15 million a year and only 20 percent would represent new residential growth. On top of that, Haines said, the county is collecting more money because of recent increases in the rate of the county's piggyback income tax and the recordation tax.

"Now we want to impose a transfer tax," he said. "I don't think our theme should be new taxes are necessary for every case. I don't think new taxes are necessary to fund growth. The numbers don't add up."

In response, Minnich said the transfer tax is the fairer way to pay for increased costs associated with growth. "We're trying to justify the need for a tool, not the tax rate," he said.

But Amedori disagreed with the commissioners' assumption that the transfer tax would only affect a select few - 2,000 households as opposed to 50,000 for a property tax.

"You say that the transfer tax would not affect everyone," she said. "At some point, it'll impact all residents. [Some] are going to move."

In particular, Amedori said, the tax would affect senior citizens who might want to sell their larger homes and move into smaller properties.

Gouge, however, said the commissioners are trying to protect senior citizens. "If the property tax goes up, they'll have to pay year after year. ... Is that fair to our senior citizens?"

Haines and Amedori suggested the county look to make cuts and find additional revenues. "We should look for ways to save money," Haines said.

The county is frugal in its spending, Minnich responded. "You have to give the county credit," he said.

Other members of the all-Republican delegation, including Dels. Donald B. Elliott and Susan W. Krebs, and Sen. David R. Brinkley, said they have not decided about the transfer tax. They said they want more information, including revenue figures associated with the county's property, income and recordation taxes.

"One thing I really don't like is arguing that the transfer tax, the impact fee and the recordation tax do not in the end result in potentially increasing property tax," Elliott said after the meeting. "In all fairness to the commissioners, I've also got to consider the fact that some of the increased property tax they're gaining is coming from higher assessments, which may not very well hold up in several years down the road."

The delegation is expected to hold a public hearing on the commissioners' proposals Jan. 24 before the group makes recommendations, Haines said.

Other requests include:

A proposal to allow the county greater power to recoup from developers the cost of road projects.

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.

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