Hearing set on bill for new taxes, fee

Legislation affecting homeowners would help raise revenue for schools

December 28, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Harford County legislative delegation will hold a public hearing Jan. 5 on a topic near and dear to the hearts of most county homeowners and would-be homeowners: taxes.

Del. Barry Glassman said the session will allow PTAs and other members of the public to express their views of proposed legislation to develop new revenue sources to have homeowners pay more toward the construction of schools and to make repairs to existing schools.

Glassman said the meeting would be held at 6 p.m. in the County Council chambers in Bel Air. "This will allow all interested parties to express their views on the matter without traveling to Annapolis," he said.

Glassman represents northern Harford County and serves as chairman of the 11-member delegation.

At the request of the County Council, the delegation is considering legislation that would give the council the power to impose several new fees related to owning a home.

They include an impact fee that would be imposed on homes built in the county and an excise tax on new homes, the amount of which would be determined by the size of the house.

The state lawmakers are also looking at increasing the rate of the transfer tax related to the sale of new and existing homes from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

For schools only

All revenue from the higher taxes would be used only for the construction and renovation of schools, said Glassman.

Although the final bill has not been drafted, Glassman said the legislation would could grant the council the impact fee or the excise tax, but not both.

The transfer tax could be used with either the impact fee or the excise tax, Glassman said.

The request for such enabling legislation stems from the demands of angry parents who turned out in large numbers at County Council meetings during the year insisting that something be done to ease school crowding.

Parents said that schools with 20 percent to nearly 30 percent more students than they were designed to accommodate pose safety hazards and compromise students' ability to learn.

While the state lawmakers favor limiting new taxes or fees, the council is pushing for as much revenue-raising authority as it can obtain.

In a letter to Glassman, council President Robert S. Wagner said his group "would be amenable to any other funding source that could be found within state law as a possible revenue stream."

Wagner said the council would also like the authority to repeal the first $30,000 transfer tax exemption for first-time homebuyers.

While acknowledging that he doesn't yet have the votes needed for passage of the enabling legislation, Glassman said, "Things look promising.

"Members of the Senate have been working with me on this, and I'm more optimistic of Senate support now than in the past.

"I probably have four solid votes in the House, and I need five," he said.

Builder opposition

The homebuilding industry has expressed strong opposition to an excise tax. It sees the increase in the transfer tax as a lesser evil because it would apply to new-home sales and to sales of existing homes.

Glassman said he has heard from several council members who have said that if the state does not give them the tools needed to address the schools problems, the council would have no choice but to close more school districts to new housing.

"My concern," he said, "is that this could have a detrimental impact on the county's economy. But I really can't blame them," he said.

"If we don't give them the tools to finance the building of the new Patterson Mill middle and high school complex and to renovate some of our older schools, they would have no choice but to close more districts to new housing."

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