Transfer tax gets unanimous `no' from delegation

Commissioners' proposal applied to property sales

`What's going to be cut?'

Money would have helped pay for schools, services

Carroll County

January 30, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Commissioners' bid to impose a real estate transfer tax to pay for an increasing demand on government services failed yesterday when the state delegation turned down their request.

In a unanimous vote in Annapolis, the county's all-Republican delegation said it would consider the proposal again next year. The seven-member delegation said it would like to work with the commissioners to resolve some of their concerns.

"We're in a state of flux in budgeting on the state and local levels," said Del. Donald B. Elliott, who also represents Frederick County. "They have justification, quite frankly, for it. [But] we'll have a better picture of the budget next year than this year."

The county needs permission from the General Assembly to levy the real estate transfer tax. The rejection of the proposal was not good news for the commissioners, who say more money is needed for schools and for police, fire and emergency services.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the three-member board, said the delegation's decision was not surprising. A few delegation members, such as state Sen. Larry E. Haines and Del. Carmen Amedori, have said in recent months that they oppose a tax on real estate transactions.

"My biggest concern is what's going to be cut," Gouge said last night. "We still don't know what cuts will come from the state. My concern is, `OK, how many less police officers could we put on the streets, how many less emergency services people could we put in the fire halls?'"

The proposed bill said revenue from the 1 percent transfer tax could be used only for schools and for police, fire and emergency services.

The fee would generate about $5 million a year, officials estimated. Rather than increase the property tax, which would affect 57,000 households, the commissioners say a transfer tax would affect the fewest Carroll residents -- about 2,000 households.

Gouge challenged the delegation to consider the difficult decisions the commissioners could face for the coming budget process for fiscal 2005.

"I want to ask the delegation what would they prefer to cut," she said. "If they were commissioners, what would they cut? Would they cut emergency services or the fire personnel, or would they prefer to have less police on the street?"

During a discussion about the transfer tax, Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale said she would like to see a percentage assigned to each category -- instead of giving schools and police, fire and emergency services a "carte blanche" amount of money.

Amedori said she would like senior citizens and people who move within Carroll exempted from paying a transfer tax.

"This is not just for new people coming into the county," she said. "I take real offense [to that]."

Haines, the delegation chairman, said that if there is a transfer tax, he would like to see some of the money go toward farm preservation. The senator also pointed out that the commissioners recently raised the rate of the county's piggyback income tax and the recordation tax, which homebuyers pay upon settlement.

Haines' objectivity on the issue, however, was called into question by a local newspaper, whose editorial called on the senator, a real estate broker, to recuse himself.

But an attorney for the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics found that Haines is "fully able to participate in the debate and voting on this proposal."

William G. Somerville, an ethics lawyer, noted in a letter Wednesday that his finding is not an official opinion of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

Meanwhile, Del. Susan W. Krebs and state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman said they are interested in seeing the county's limit on property assessment increases lowered from 10 percent to 5 percent.

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

The proposal on lowering the county's reassessment limit was initiated by the state delegation. The members decided yesterday to reconsider the issue next year along with the transfer tax proposal.

Members of the delegation will introduce the following bills to the General Assembly by the end of next week:

A proposal to increase the salaries of Carroll County school board members from $3,000 to $5,000, and from $3,500 to $6,000 for the board chairman.

A proposal to give the county greater power to recoup the costs of road projects from developers.

A proposal to change a state law to allow Carroll fire departments to hold more raffles.

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

A change to the nuisance-abatement law in which weeds on agricultural land would not be considered a nuisance.

A request to change the name of the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association to the Carroll County Emergency Services Association.

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