Delegation sets hearing on bills involving county

Real estate transfer tax, assessment cap debated

Meeting at 9 a.m. tomorrow

State lawmakers seek input on many proposals

Carroll County

January 23, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Members of Carroll County's all-Republican state delegation want feedback from their constituents before they decide whether to support a list of legislative requests submitted by the county commissioners, including the heavily debated proposal to levy a real estate transfer tax.

A discussion about lowering the county's property assessment limit from 10 percent to 5 percent was also added to a list of legislative proposals to be discussed at tomorrow's public hearing. Carroll's delegation is expected to vote on the proposals next week, said delegation leader Sen. Larry E. Haines.

In recent months, the county commissioners have been trying to solicit support for their proposal to impose a tax on real estate transactions, which they say is needed to pay for an increasing demand on government services brought on by growth in the county.

Language in the proposed bill says revenue from the 1 percent transfer tax could only be used for schools and for police, fire and emergency services. The fee would generate about $5 million a year, officials estimated.

"In order to meet the expectations of Carroll County, not just its old client base but a new client base, we need a new revenue source," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich told members of the county's Economic Development Commission yesterday.

Minnich said the commissioners want to create a revenue source through the transfer tax because it would affect the least number of Carroll residents. An increase in property tax would affect 57,000 households as opposed to about 2,000 under a transfer tax, county officials say.

The Economic Development Commission decided yesterday to support the commissioners' bid for the transfer tax. But the commissioners cannot levy such a tax without approval from the General Assembly, and Haines has said repeatedly in recent months that he is opposed to any tax increases.

Several groups, including the Carroll County Taxpayers Association and the South Carroll Republican Club, have been vocal in their opposition to the new tax.

Almost all the legislative requests to be discussed at tomorrow's public hearing were initiated by the county commissioners, except the proposal on the county's assessment limit.

That was generated by the county delegation in response to recent news that Maryland home values are rising at the fastest rate in more than a dozen years, Haines said this week.

In fast-growing southern Carroll County, where homes were reassessed this year, values rose an average of 12 percent, which was in line with the average increase statewide.

"I've had a number of constituents call me regarding what they believe is an excessive increase in assessments," Haines said.

The state has a system of assessment limits that protect homeowners from ballooning taxes. Some counties, including Howard and Anne Arundel, have limits that are 5 percent or less.

Lowering Carroll's reassessment limit to 5 percent, which would apply only to owner-occupied properties, would save homeowners on property tax, Haines said.

The county, however, would lose nearly $3.6 million if the property assessment limit is lowered to 5 percent, according to a study by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

County budget director Ted Zaleski said the possible revenue loss would affect the county's fiscal 2006 budget. For the coming fiscal year starting in July, however, the county is estimating property tax revenues of $113 million for its projected $257 million budget.

Zaleski said that lowering the assessment limit is an issue that is broached every year. "Certainly there's room for discussion this year as well," he said.

Other legislative requests include:

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

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 county capital improvement projects for the next fiscal year.

The public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow in Room 003 at the County Office Building on Center Street.

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