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County will ask state to hike sales tax here

September 21, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

-- Legislative requests

The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday to ask the Maryland General Assembly to raise the state sales tax in the county and delayed a decision on a fire tax until a consultant's report is finished.

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Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said he would like to pursue hiking the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in Washington County to help pay off the water and sewer debt, even though state lawmakers have not been enthusiastic about the idea.

"If you don't ask dad for the car keys you're not going to get them," Swartz said.

The County Commissioners also decided they would wait for a consultant's report before deciding whether to ask the General Assembly for authority to impose a fire tax, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

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The remarks came during a preliminary discussion about the county's legislative agenda for the next General Assembly session, which begins in January.

The commissioners will meet with the legislative delegation in the next month, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

Swartz said increasing the sales tax by a penny would raise $12 million a year and help pay off the county's water and sewer debt, which is about $52 million. When the debt is paid off the county could ask for the tax to be reduced, he said.

When Swartz floated the idea at a July meeting with the delegation, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, told him there was virtually no chance such a request would gain legislative approval.

Swartz said it would not hurt to ask again and the other commissioners agreed.

The County Commissioners are scheduled to receive within the next week the $89,850 report from Carroll Buracker and Associates Inc. of Harrisonburg, Va., which will make a recommendation about whether the county should institute a fire tax.

No specific tax amount was discussed at Tuesday's meeting.

The Washington County Emergency Services Council Chairman Lawrence Johns has said he opposes a fire tax.

"I don't think we have the evidence that we need it," Johns said. "I think we're premature."

The Emergency Services Council was created in the summer of 1996 to develop a plan to provide fire protection and rescue services countywide, Johns said. The council suggested the county pay for the consultant's report.

The Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association probably will not take a position on the issue, President Jay Grimes said Tuesday.

The association can justify the need for funds, but it's up to the County Commissioners to decide where to get the money, Grimes said.

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