Property tax increase to be proposed in Arundel

Council members say it's not surprising given financial straits

April 13, 2011|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Members of the Anne Arundel County Council say that considering how tight money is, they're not surprised that the proposed budget to be unveiled Friday contains a property tax increase that would add $90 to the bill on a $300,000 house.

"It's not surprising, given the gravity and the nature of the fiscal climate in this county," said G. James Benoit, a Democrat who represents the western area from Millersville to Laurel. Like other lawmakers, he said he hadn't seen any official budget numbers. "The county just doesn't have any money."

"It isn't something I'll say I'm comfortable with," said Council Chairman Dick Ladd, a Republican who represents the eastern area from Cape St. Claire to Severna Park, "but I can't say I'm surprised."

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, said Wednesday that he would propose a 3 cent tax rate increase, to 91 cents per $100 of assessed value. The 3.4 percent hike would add $30 to the property tax bill for every $100,000 of value. The (Annapolis) Capital newspaper first reported the proposal.

Records of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation show that the Anne Arundel County property tax rate has declined since 2001, when it stood at 95 cents per $100. Leopold he needs the increase to maintain services, given falling property values.

"I believe that citizens of the county have every right to want a certain level of service," he said. "I'm more interested in governing well than I am in any other political ramifications."

Spear Lancaster of Crownsville, who is president of the Anne Arundel County Taxpayers Association, said he had not had time to review the numbers in detail, but he said "there is inflation, and I have no trouble with taxes mirroring inflation. … There are people who think all taxes are sin. There are legitimate needs of society that have to be funded by the government."

Peter Castruccio of Glen Burnie, who helped establish the taxpayers' group in the 1980s, was not happy.

"It's not very good for the people," he said. He said the news was "surprising," given Leopold's opposition to tax increases.

Leopold said Wednesday he has consistently been open to property tax increases so long as revenue increases do not exceed a voter-approved cap set in the 1990s.

Members of the County Council said earlier this week they expected the budget of just over $1 billion, to be presented Friday morning by Leopold, to include county employee furlough days and possibly layoffs. State aid is down, and the continuing slump in the real estate market has depressed receipts from real estate transfer taxes.

Ladd said he expected a shortfall of $30 million, perhaps more, that would have to be made up.

Council member Daryl Jones, a Democrat who represents the northern district between Jessup and Brooklyn Park, noted that Leopold has already asked the state for a waiver from minimum per-pupil spending for county schools, which makes up about 52 percent of the budget.

Council Vice Chairman Derek Fink, a Republican who represents the eastern district from Riviera Beach to Gibson Island, said he was expecting a tough budget season, with lots of discussion about layoffs and furloughs.

"It's a tough situation to balance budgets on employees' backs," said Fink. "It's not something any of us are looking forward to."

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