Tax increase debated

April 23, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners squabbled over whether to raise taxes - and which ones to raise - at their meeting on Tuesday.

Commissioner James R. Wade suggested increasing the property tax rate by 15 cents, which would generate $3.6 million.

That would cover the subsidy of $2.7 million from the general fund for the Water and Sewer Department and an additional $888,000 deficit projected at the county's industrial pretreatment plant, Wade said.

"We don't have enough money to pay the bills," Wade said.

A decision on a tax increase proposal could come as early as Monday.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said he doesn't want to raise taxes.

"I ain't raising taxes and blaming it on the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant because we don't have to," Bowers said.

Wade challenged Bowers to come up with $3 million.


Bowers suggested several options, including a reduction in the water and sewer subsidy.

"How are you going to do that?" asked Wade.

"Increase the usage," Bowers said.

"Aw, come on," Wade said. "We've been talking about this for years. If we're going to reduce the $2.7 million for water and sewer, I want to see what those rate increases are going to be."

Bowers also said a projected $1 million surplus from this year could go into next year's budget.

County Finance Director Debra Bastian recommended that any surplus should replenish reserve funds, which have been depleted by water and sewer costs and could pose cash flow problems.

Bowers also said the county could raise $1.6 million by lowering landfill fees and attracting more trash to the landfill. Landfill tonnage and revenue dropped sharply after commissioners increased fees from $40 to $45 a ton. But a return to previous tonnages could use up existing space before the landfill is expanded.

Bowers also said the commissioners could tap a $2.3 million surplus from fiscal 1996. The county put about $1 million of that into next year's capital improvement budget, Bastian said. Projects would have to be axed or reserve funds run down even more if that surplus is spent, she said.

Bowers also said the commissioners should consider a half-percent real estate transfer tax, which would raise $812,500.

Commissioner John S. Shank said he would prefer a mix of tax increases, such as a 10-cent property tax hike and an increase in the county piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 54 percent. Those hikes would raise about $3 million.

"I don't think I can go along with a 15-cent property tax increase," Shank said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said he agreed with Shank.

Bastian said a 15-cent increase would cost a homeowner with a $93,000 house about $55 a year.

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