Higher taxes, fees on the way

June 29, 1997


Staff Writer

If you're a Washington County homeowner, cable subscriber or water and sewer customer, your wallet will be a little lighter starting Tuesday, when new tax and rate hikes start.

A $2.5 million property tax rate hike will take the biggest bite out of taxpayer's bank accounts. The rate will rise from $2.21 to $2.31 per $100 in assessed value, increasing bills $40 a year for owners of a $100,000 house.

Property tax assessments are increasing at an estimated 2 percent a year for a typical homeowner, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. A $2,000 increase in a house's value is equal to about $20 in state and county property taxes. One third of county properties are reassessed each year. If the assessment goes up, the increase in taxes are phased in over three years.


The increases aren't exactly bringing a cheer from county taxpayers.

"They are going to drive people out of the state," said Sharpsburg resident Dan Weiss, who said the higher taxes and sewer fees are going to hurt property values.

"They are going to push everybody over to West Virginia."

Weiss said his property tax assessments keep going up in addition to a 10-cent rate increase that will go into effect July 1.

His tax bill on his roughly $100,000 home will rise about $60.

Weiss also has the misfortune of being on Washington County-run sewer. Those rates will go up 5 percent on top of double and triple-digit increases for most customers last year.

Weiss said he uses about 21,000 gallons a quarter, which means he'll pay about $25 more a year for sewer.

Weiss questioned why assessments keep going up.

"Are they going to lower the assessments when they drive the property values go down? There have been houses for sale here for two years," he said. "They'd never admit that they've ruined property values."

Weiss will also pay an extra $10 a year for cable and probably $10 more a year in school activities fees for his high school-aged daughter, for a total of $105 in hikes.

"Anything to do with the citizens goes up," he said. "If it's for developers or friends of the (County) Commissioners, they get a free ride."

Cindy and Ed McDonald in Halfway will be paying about $175 more because of the higher fees.

The McDonalds' property tax assessment and tax rate hike means an increase of about $75. They have four children and a hefty $158 quarterly sewer bill. That bill will rise $7.90 a quarter, or $31.60 for the year.

Their two high school-age children plan to participate in seven sports that charge the $40 transportation fee, so they'll be paying $280, or $70 more than this past year's rate.

"It's going to hit us hard," Cindy McDonald said. "The whole idea of the sports is you're trying to steer the kids in the right direction. I think they are making it really difficult for families to afford it."

McDonald said she would prefer to stay home with her children, but the family needs two incomes to make ends meet.

"If Jim Wade gets his way and we have to pay for books, that's going to be an absolute nightmare," she said. "Paying for books for four kids is just unheard of."

The McDonalds don't have cable.

"That's something we can do without," she said.

Chester Albright Jr., 58, isn't happy about the sewer rate increases - even if they are less than half what was projected last year.

"Our politicians have done an extreme injustice to our citizens," he said.

"Those people should surrender all their capital assets and pay out of their own pockets."

Walter Magaw, a Halfway county sewer customer, said he's thinking of moving to Florida because of projections for continued yearly rate hikes for the next decade to pay off a $56 million water and sewer debt.

"If I wait another 10 years, this house will be unsellable," he said. "What are we doing to correct the problem?"

Paul Wolber, a retired doctor living in Hagerstown, said the rising assessments weren't justified because real estate in the area has been depressed and said adding to the tax rate on top of that was a "double whammy."

Wolber also said the county needed to institute impact fees on new developments because it wasn't fair for current residents to shoulder the cost of building schools and roads for new residents.

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