Officials say double tax is no bargain

December 07, 1997

Officials say double tax is no bargain


Staff Writer

Between city and county taxes, the owner of an $85,000 home in Hagerstown would have paid $1,363.40 in property taxes this year while the owner of a similar home just outside the city limits would have only paid $785.40 in county taxes.

For its $578 share of the taxes, Hagerstown provides a high caliber of services, including a city police department, street lights, prompt snow removal and cheaper utilities than the county, city officials said.

But city property owners aren't getting a fair shake from the county when it comes to services the county taxes them for but doesn't have to provide because the city does, they said.


That's why they're supporting legislation in the 1998 General Assembly that would create a new framework for how Maryland counties handle "double taxation" disputes with their municipalities, they said.

"We're not getting what is due to us," said Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

The proposed law, which ensures a public hearing for tax setoff disputes, is a step in the right direction toward city residents paying a fairer share of county taxes, Bruchey said.

Leaders from some of the county's other municipalities said they also support the legislation, either because they're not satisfied with the current deal or would like reassurance they're getting a fair amount.

"I think it would be good to look into it and see what the bottom line is," said Williamsport Mayor John Slayman, whose town will get a $43,517 rebate on county taxes this year. "It's good to have it looked into every once in a while to see exactly how it stands."

Washington County officials said they think the rebate formula has served county municipalities fairly.

The county was a leader among the state's county commission-led counties when it started giving its municipalities a rebate for police, parks and road services in the early 1980s, said Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who was serving as president when the rebate was started.

"They should be happy because before they weren't getting anything. We acknowledged there was a problem and did something about it," Bowers said.

The county will be reimbursing its municipalities almost $1 million in county taxes for police, roads and park services it didn't have to provide in the past year, he said.

When it comes to Washington County, a law isn't needed to ensure municipalities are getting a fair deal, Bowers said.

If the proposed law passes, he said, he thinks it will show that.

"I think you're going to find out Washington County is giving more than a fair share," Bowers said.

Most Maryland counties give residents living within their municipalities some break on their county taxes, either through a lower county tax rate or a rebate, said Stephen McHenry, associate director of the Maryland Municipal League in Annapolis.

For example, Cumberland residents get 22 cents off the Allegany County tax rate of $2.47.

Other counties, like Washington County, give tax rebates, McHenry said.

Five counties provide no county tax relief at all, he said.

The proposed law reflects a compromise reached by representatives of the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO), McHenry said.

"Basically, what we're trying to do is really strengthen the state law so there's a structured approach and county officials can't dodge it," he said.

Under the proposed law, municipalities that submit a request for a tax setoff would be entitled to a structured and timely discussion with appropriate county officials about the nature of the contemplated setoff.

The municipality would have to submit a tax setoff request within a set time and provide sufficient information and justification, including municipal expenditures for duplicated services.

In turn, they'd be entitled to county financial information, a meeting with appropriate county representatives within a set time, a statement of intent of the proposed setoff when the county budget is submitted and an opportunity to discuss or contest the proposal during the county's normally scheduled budget hearings.

While the new law won't ensure municipal residents aren't paying for duplicated services, it will allow municipal taxpayers greater scrutiny of what county services they're paying for, Bruchey said.

Hagerstown residents pay $1.70 per $100 in assessed value in municipal taxes in addition to the full county tax rate of $2.31 per $100.

Even with a $730,115 rebate to the city this year, residents of Hagerstown - which supplies 27 percent of the Washington County's tax base - will end up paying for county services they don't need or receive, Bruchey said.

"I think that the city of Hagerstown, as a municipality, does not in any way, shape or form get back what it gives to the county," he said.

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