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Tax hike rejected, but it will be back

April 25, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners rejected three separate tax increase proposals Tuesday, but Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said a tax hike of some sort probably will be approved.

Because no action was taken, the Washington County Commissioners didn't balance the fiscal 2001 general fund budget Tuesday even though they were scheduled to do so earlier this month. They will resume budget discussions Tuesday.

Snook and Commissioner William J. Wivell voted against all three proposals, but Snook said the question is not whether taxes will be raised but by how much.

Snook said the commissioners must make some decisions, including the amount to go to the Washington County Board of Education. He said he is not ready to suggest a school funding level until some questions about state school funding are resolved.

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Wivell voted against all three proposals, saying he would not support a tax increase until he gets more information about areas where cuts could be made to balance the budget.

"We need to look at our own budget before we look at raising taxes," Wivell said. He said he did not have specific suggestions on areas that could be cut.

The projected shortfall remains at about $3.9 million, but that includes a 7.25 percent increase, or $4.8 million, for the School Board, according to county budget documents.

"I don't think there's support for a 7.25 percent increase," Snook said.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger suggested making other budget cuts to find money for the School Board. Snook said the only department where sufficient cuts could be made was the Sheriff's Department, and he didn't think that was a realistic option.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz moved to increase property and income tax rates and fund the School Board at the 7.25 percent increase. Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger seconded the motion. The changes would have cost the average taxpayer $116 a year.

The vote on the motion was 2-3 with Iseminger and Swartz voting in favor.

Schnebly proposed giving the School Board about a 6 percent increase. Under his proposal, which also included tax increases, the average taxpayer would have paid about $92 more per year, budget documents show.

That motion died for lack of a second.

Iseminger offered a variation of Schnebly's motion but that too was rejected on a 2-3 vote, with Swartz and Iseminger voting for it.

Swartz, 62, wants people over age 65 with an income of less than $25,000 to be exempted from tax hikes, possibly through a tax credit.

Wivell said giving a break to one group would be unfair because it would be at the expense of other citizens.

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