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Former councilman irked about tax bills

May 05, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Former Hagerstown City Councilman Ira Kauffman was one of two people to complain during a Tuesday public hearing that their city tax bills will go up even if council members decide to leave the property tax rate unchanged.

Kauffman also addressed projected future budget deficits, and council meetings earlier this year, which were closed to the public, in his statement to the mayor and council.

Under the proposed budget for the 2000 fiscal year, which begins July 1, the city's property tax rate would remain at $1.74 per $100 of assessed value.

However, taxpayers whose property assessments are set to increase will see their city tax bills go up, because the amount of tax paid is based on the assessed value of their property.

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This is called the constant yield rate, and is expected to increase the tax revenue collected by the city by 1.1 percent, or about $120,000, according to a statement from the city.

To offset this increase, the city tax rate would have to be reduced by 2 cents.

Kauffman said that even if council members do not raise the tax rate for the next several years, his tax bill will increase 2.5 percent for the coming fiscal year, 5 percent for the 2000-2001 fiscal year and 7.5 percent for the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

"So let's not say there was not a tax increase in the budget because you did not raise the tax rate," Kauffman said.

Another man, who did not give his name, asked the mayor and council members how they can say they are not raising taxes when his tax bill is increasing.

In responding to the comments, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the state is in charge of setting the property assessments, not the city.

Bruchey said the city is not raising taxes, and they have no control over what the state does.

The mayor added that the increase in revenue was a blessing for the city, which is facing tight financial projections.

Kauffman, a council member from 1977 to 1981, also said that budget projections for the next several years show a "bleak picture with expenditures increasing far faster than revenues."

To deal with these projections Kauffman recommended the city look to make cuts in personal services, fringe benefits and debt service. He also advised against starting new programs.

In closing, Kauffman said he hoped all future budget meetings would be held in public.

"This year there have been at least four closed (budget) meetings. I believe this could violate Maryland state laws," he said.

Between January and April, the mayor and council members held several closed-door budget meetings.

Bruchey said those meetings were all closed for legal reasons because the discussions all focused on personnel issues.

Under Maryland law, there are a limited number of situations under which legislative bodies may vote to exclude the public from meetings.

Those exceptions include most meetings to discuss matters regarding specific personnel.

Council members are expected to adopt a budget on May 25.

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