Senator defends position on taxes

Residents say Kittleman is focused on Howard Co.

He believes revenue is sufficient

February 20, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

If Carroll County can show it is governing efficiently and spending wisely, Sen. Allan H. Kittleman said he might alter his opposition to a real estate transfer tax next year.

"I am not totally opposed," said Kittleman, who represents South Carroll and western Howard County, in a meeting Thursday with the Freedom Area Citizens Council. "But when I looked at the revenue, I felt the county was already taking too much. I am not saying this money could not be used, but there is never going to be enough money, ever."

The proposed 1 percent tax on real estate transactions that could have brought the county about $10 million in additional revenue failed to win support from the legislative delegation. Kittleman was one of four legislators who defeated the proposal by one vote this month.

The citizens council, which serves as an unofficial liaison between the South Carroll community and the county commissioners, asked the senator to explain his opposition. Kittleman, who was appointed in October to the state Senate seat held by his late father, said recent increases in impact fees, the income tax and recordation fees were producing enough revenue.

"I reviewed five years of county budgets and was struck by the revenue," Kittleman said. "I was just not comfortable with another tax increase at this time. But I am not opposed forever."

The commissioners had planned to use the transfer tax to fund overdue school and road improvements. The county is facing $250 million in school upgrades and nearly $100 million in road paving projects. Those projects had strong support in South Carroll, the county's fastest-growing area and one that grapples daily with crowded schools, congested roads and water shortages. Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll, voted for the tax.

"We can forgive him for going against our delegate, but we won't continue to forgive," said Douglas Metz, a member of the Freedom council.

Metz urged Kittleman to push for widening Route 32 from Howard County to Route 26, a $220 million project that has no state funding and a lot of opposition from Howard residents.

"A lot of your constituents here are stuck on that road every day," Metz said. "This area needs that road widened. We will not be the stepsister to Howard County."

Kittleman, who lives in western Howard, discussed several legislative initiatives with the audience of about 50. He stressed that he wants "all the things that you want." But several members of the audience said their senator was too focused on Howard issues.

"We are 22nd in the state for school funding and Howard is at the top of the list," said Ross Dangel, council spokesman. "How can you say we don't need this money for schools? This may have looked like a tax increase to you, but, in reality, Carroll is so far behind, it would just help us get back to even."

Jean Hruch of Eldersburg said, "The burden for all these improvements should not rest on homeowners in Carroll County. That is why the transfer tax was so important. You have to spend more time in the South Carroll area, and you have to talk to us."

Roberta Windham, a member of the county Board of Zoning Appeals, said the commissioners, who took office in 2002, have "done a tremendous job to improve infrastructure and services. This money would have gone to libraries, senior centers and schools."

An excise tax, which developers would pay per square foot for both commercial and residential development, might be a more equitable solution to revenue shortfalls, Kittleman said.

It might also eliminate the impact fees and lower the recordation tax, but the commissioners would have to be assured of the delegation's support before proposing an excise tax, Commissioner Perry L. Jones said Friday.

"The commissioners might support it, if the delegation would guarantee us they would pass it," Jones said. "But, if they didn't pass it, and that is a strong possibility, we would have major problems."

Kittleman also suggested that the county "do a strategic budget initiative and have every department review its budget" in an effort to find more money.

"The county needs to know if it is doing the most that it can with the money it has now," Kittleman said.

Ted Zaleski, county director of budget and management, said he had no argument with the senator's suggestion but added, "I have no strong expectations that the study would lead to significant changes or major savings."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich questioned Kittleman's timing.

"The time to have made that suggestion was earlier than the day the decision was made if, indeed, this is a good-faith intent on the senator's part," Minnich said Friday. "By refusing to look at capital costs and focusing on operating costs, Kittleman shows he has no grip on the real issues Carroll faces. He has made his decision to side with ideological extremists on the right wing. He probably found at the FACC meeting many who would not support this position."

Jones said the county reviewed every department annually.

"If this budget study would not cost a lot of money, we might do it, but I doubt it would turn up anything major," Jones said. "It would show that some departments are working with less staff than they had a few years ago and staff is working longer hours."

During the meeting, Windham reminded Kittleman that the transfer tax proposal was a local issue that would have given the commissioners another revenue tool.

Minnich expanded on that theme Friday.

"The senator was not elected by the majority of Carroll County," Minnich said. "He was elected to represent a piece of this county on statewide issues. The people elected this board of commissioners to manage the county's fiscal issues. How we manage that is up to us. Whether or not we are given the tools to manage is unfortunately up to the delegation. If the delegation works with us to address the challenges we face, all is well and good. But that is not the case."

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