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Commissioners hike taxes to balance budget

May 02, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners balanced the fiscal 2001 general fund budget Tuesday by voting to raise property and income taxes and by slicing another $600,000 from the Washington County Board of Education budget.

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If the budget as proposed is adopted later this year, the combined tax increases would cost the average taxpayer about $102 a year, according to county budget documents.

The vote for the tax increases was 3-1, with Commissioners Bert L. Iseminger, Paul L. Swartz and John L. Schnebly voting in favor of the tax hikes proposed by Iseminger.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook voted against the increases, saying they were too high.

Commissioner William J. Wivell was ill and was not present for the discussion and vote. He had said previously he would vote against any tax increase.

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The vote was to increase the property tax rate to $2.37 per $100 of assessed value, which would raise $1.65 million more than the current rate of $2.31, according to budget documents. That increase would cost the average taxpayer about $29 a year, according to the county.

The vote also was to increase the income tax rate to .028 percent of taxable income, which would raise about $1.6 million, the county said. That would cost the average taxpayer about $73 a year, the county said.

The county's current income tax rate is .0251 percent, and the Maryland General Assembly had set the county's rate for next year at .0255 percent, county Budget and Finance Director Debra Bastian said.The state replaced the county piggyback tax with a flat tax rate last year, setting the rate at a level that would bring in the same amount of revenue as the piggyback tax would have.

The income tax increase would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2001. The property tax hike would be effective July 1, 2001, according to the county.

Schnebly and Iseminger said the tax hikes were needed to provide enough funding for education and public safety.

Swartz proposed exempting from the tax hikes people over age 65 with incomes of less than $25,000 by giving them a tax credit.

But a vote to include the tax credit in the proposed budget failed, with Iseminger and Swartz voting in support of it.

The budget includes about a 6.2 percent budget increase for the Washington County Board of Education.

Snook said after the meeting he was thinking of giving the board about a 4 percent to 5 percent increase.

The School Board requested an increase over the current year's funding from the county of about $6.8 million, or a total of $66.2 million. The $121.45 million tentative spending plan would give the School Board about $4.3 million more than this year, or$64.6 million, Iseminger said. The budget won't be adopted until later this year following a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m., May 23, at Hagerstown Community College.

School Board President Paul Bailey said he hopes there will be a community push to further increase School Board funding.

"The board was a little disheartened by the fact that we didn't receive the greater portion of our funding," Bailey said. "We thought the system was demonstrating excellent progress."

Last week, the commissioners had rejected three tax increase proposals.

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