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Lawmakers will listen to transfer tax request

January 20, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

State lawmakers who rejected a transfer tax two years ago said last week they are willing to entertain a renewed request by the Washington County Commissioners.

"I'm keeping an open mind. I'm not going to pass judgment," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, one of the most vocal opponents of the commissioners' 2001 request for a transfer tax.

The commissioners on Tuesday decided to seek state authority to tax real estate transactions. The rate would be determined later.

The measure first has to pass the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly and the full Legislature.

County Commissioners will travel to Annapolis on Wednesday to make their case for a transfer tax or some other way to raise money.

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Only Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, dismissed the idea out-of-hand.

"None of the people I met in Dargan and Sandy Hook wanted to see their taxes go up," Mooney said, referring to the part of southern Washington County he represents.

Mooney said the best way state lawmakers can help local governments is to reduce their spending requirements from the state.

Other lawmakers said they want to hear the proposal.

The newest estimates from the state show that a 1 percent transfer tax would raise about $6.4 million, said County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

Del. Robert A. McKee, who was open to the idea two years ago but ultimately voted against it, said he would like to help the commissioners.

"I look at my role as a delegate to work with and assist the commissioners. They know their situation better than I do," said McKee, R-Washington.

Del. LeRoy Myers said that as a building contractor he has an opinion on what would be fair but he needs to take a look at the issue from his new role as a delegate.

"That has to take precedence," said Myers, R-Washington/Allegany.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was also taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said he is willing to support the tax increase.

"My personal feeling is they need all the tools they have in their toolbox," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he doesn't want a transfer tax but he's willing to listen to the request.

"I'm going to keep an open mind," he said.

Munson said he would like to see most of the proceeds go to agricultural land preservation.

This request is different from the county's 2001 request because the county is facing more uncertain financial times, lawmakers said.

In poorer financial times, the state is cutting back on money for land preservation and public school construction, Shank said.

Local governments are going to suffer from state budget cuts, which could force the commissioners to raise property taxes unless they get a new way to raise money, Munson said.

Shank, who said he was philosophically opposed to a transfer tax two years ago, said another reason he's willing to listen to the commissioners' proposal is to improve county-delegation relations.

Former commissioners had complained that lawmakers tried to usurp their authority when it came it making decisions for the county.

"It was no secret there was tension in the past," Shank said.

Shank said he wants to start off on the right foot with the new group of commissioners - all Republicans - who took office in December.

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