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County needs to fashion a better case for new tax

November 22, 2000

County needs to fashion a better case for new tax



Washington County government's proposal for an increase in the real-estate transfer tax hit a snag last week, when some members of the county's legislative delegation opposed the idea. Unless the commissioners make a stronger case for this proposal, it's probably dead in the water.

The delegation, which has already approved one tax increase this year - a boost in the hotel/motel tax designed to yield $300,000 a year for a new minor league baseball stadium and other economic-development projects - may be wary of passing anther increase so quickly. Opposition has already surfaced, with the Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors noting that the 1 percent hike would add $1,100 to the closing costs of a $100,000 home.

For their part, the commissioners say that additional money is needed for education, urban redevelopment and agricultural preservation. On the last issue, Commissioner Bert Iseminger said that the county has been forced to turn down state cash for farmland preservation because it couldn't come up with local matching funds.

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To make a case for this increase, the commissioners have to speak specifically to what the additional money would allow them to do, like speed up the renovation of some of the older county schools, possibly as part of a consolidation plan that proponents say could save the system millions.

But the county board also has to make a convincing argument that the hike wouldn't drive would-be home buyers to Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Doing that will require a look at the fees charged now (or planned in the near future) for those jurisdictions.

Finally, the commissioners have to make a strong case that cutting the budget in other areas wouldn't yield enough savings to do the same thing without raising fees. The county board's members may know that for sure, but they've got to convince us and the local General Assembly delegation that this latest tax proposal is a good and necessary thing.

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