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Commissioners cutting budget, talking tax hike

April 07, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Two of the five Washington County Commissioners said Thursday they believe it will be necessary to raise taxes in order to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

A third commissioner said he would not vote for a tax increase, and a fourth said he didn't know if a tax hike would be necessary but that it would have to be considered.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said if the commissioners don't raise taxes, they will have to make budget cuts that could affect county services.

He predicted Tuesday's meeting would include a "spirited discussion" about whether to raise taxes.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz agreed a tax hike probably is in the works. "I would not be opposed to raise taxes if necessary," Swartz said.

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He said, however, he wants to exempt people over age 65 from any such increase.

Treasurer Todd Hershey said he didn't think senior citizens could be exempted from a tax increase, but thought it would be possible to give a tax credit to seniors after the hike. The result would essentially be the same, he said.

Neither Iseminger nor Swartz was sure how much of a tax hike would be needed or which tax would be increased.

Snook had instructed Budget and Finance Director Debra Bastian to return Tuesday with a list of taxes, including property and income taxes, that could be increased.

A phased-in tax cut adopted by the state may make it appear the county has already voted to increase the piggyback income tax rate, but that is not the case, Washington County spokesman Norman Bassett said.

At an April 4 meeting, the County Commissioners tentatively sliced $1.9 million from the School Board's budget and proposed other cuts. Those actions reduced the shortfall in the budget for fiscal 2001 to about $3.4 million.

"We have made about as many cuts as we can make," Iseminger said. "There's going to need to be some kind of a tax increase."

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he will refuse to vote to raise taxes and would prefer that the county make cuts across the board.

Wivell and Swartz said they might develop their own plans for balancing the budget over the weekend.

Asked if the commissioners would raise taxes, Commissioner John L. Schnebly said, "I don't know. We certainly are going to have to consider that."

The commissioners need to balance the budget Tuesday in order to meet deadlines for a scheduled public hearing later this month, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said earlier this week.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, April 25, at 7 p.m., at Hagerstown Community College. That hearing could be delayed, however.

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