Editorial: Harford staff raises are fine, but an income tax cut is also called for


It's been a tough several years, and things may be easing, if only a little. Or maybe we're just getting used to it.

The news that Harford County Executive David R. Craig is proposing a 4 percent pay raise for county government employees, sheriff's deputies and library staff no doubt comes as welcome news for those who can expect to be paid a little more for their services. After all, with a couple notable exceptions, most of the folks haven't seen pay raises since mid-2008, just before the economy tanked.

That raises are a possibility is also a good sign for the rest of us in the county, as well.

As County Treasurer Kathy Hewitt put it: "Our revenue has started improving over the last few fiscal years."

This revenue improvement has made it possible to consider staff raises, and it comes even though the county has managed to make cuts to the property tax rate in recent years by 2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

If county tax revenue is going up even as the real estate tax rate has been cut, there are signs property values are steady or climbing and payroll taxes are up, an indication that more people are working or those who are being paid more or both.

It's been a miserable few years, and there's no reason to believe party time is just around the corner. Still, Harford County managed to avoid large scale staffing cuts and tax rate increases, and now the economic situation is easing.

As the financial situation improves more — presuming it does — the county should continue to look with some suspicion on its local tax rates. The cuts in real estate tax rates were welcome, but it also is worth remembering Harford County has one of the higher local income tax rates among Maryland counties.

The local income tax rate was increased a little more than a decade ago when housing values were relatively stable, the economy was weakening and the county needed revenue. What happened next, however, was the coming of the housing boom that inflated property values and, coupled with what turned out to be the unnecessary county income tax hike, left the county rolling in cash. More revenue notwithstanding, the income tax rate didn't come back down.

As things settle out from the boom and bust, among the first items on the county government's agenda in weeks and months to come should be a substantial reduction in the local income tax rate.

That will be like giving not only deserving county employees a raise, but also everyone else who will be paying for it.

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