County considers tax hike to close budget gap

April 02, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners are considering raising taxes to help close a budget gap between an expected $3 million in new revenue and more than $15 million in increased budget requests.

The County Commissioners on Tuesday asked Finance Director Debra Bastian to come up with scenarios for raising taxes that would generate additional revenues of $1 million, $2 million, $3 million and $4 million.

None of the commissioners in the nearly five hours of budget discussions said they were opposed to a tax increase, but neither did they commit to supporting a tax hike.


At the commissioners' request, Bastian presented two scenarios for raising taxes at a budget work session Tuesday afternoon. In the first scenario, she listed three ways of generating about $5.65 million in additional revenue.

A second scenario suggested three ways of raising $4 million in additional revenue.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said a $5.65 million tax increase was too high, and suggested the commissioners start out at the $4 million figure and try to whittle down the budget from there. "That's max-max as far as I'm concerned," Downey said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he couldn't support a $4 million tax increase.

"That's way too high for me," Snook said, but didn't say what level of tax hike he would support. Asked if he would support raising taxes, Snook said, "It's either that or we hold everything flat."

"We're certainly going to be lower than $4 million," said Commissioner James R. Wade. "I don't know what it will end up being."

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said in a telephone interview that he would wait to see what the consensus was before committing to a tax increase.

The commissioners have started making preliminary cuts to budget requests of different departments.

The Sheriff's Department had asked for funding for 22 new correctional officers, a cook and a clerk at the Washington County Detention Center to help cope with an increasing number of prisoners. The commissioners chopped the request to funds for 12 officers, seven who would begin work on July 1 at the start of the next fiscal year, and five who would start Jan. 1, 1998. They eliminated funding for the clerk but kept funds for a cook.

The Washington County Board of Education has requested about $8 million in additional funding over its current level. Wade suggested a $4 million increase as a starting point for discussion.

Wade said the combined $10 million in additional funds requested by the Board of Education, the Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown Junior College wasn't feasible. The Sheriff's Department had sought an increase of $1.6 million over the current budget level and the college had sought $537,399.

Bastian told the commissioners they could raise the money through property taxes, income taxes and real estate transfer taxes. An increase in the property tax of 10 cents per $100 of assessed value would generate $2.4 million, Bastian estimated.

Imposing a 1 percent real estate transfer tax would generate $1,625,000. The county now doesn't charge a transfer tax. The state has a 1/2 percent transfer tax.

Increasing the piggyback income tax to the maximum 60 percent from the current 50 percent level starting Jan. 1, 1998, would generate $1,535,000, she said.

Bastian said that $2 million of the $3 million increase in revenue already has been eaten up by mandated funding and fixed-cost increases.

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