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Support building for taxing authority

Members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly said they would be willing to pass tax legislation

Members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly said they would be willing to pass tax legislation

January 23, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Support is building among Washington County lawmakers for a new taxing authority that would largely raise money for school renovation.

The Washington County Commissioners went to Annapolis on Wednesday to make their case for the authority to tax real estate transfers.

At least half the members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly said they would be willing to pass some type of tax legislation to prevent an increase in property taxes.

There is no consensus yet on whether it would be a transfer tax, excise tax or a combination of both.

"We, as a delegation, will be doing something to give the County Commissioners the tools they need to make sure Washington County grows and grows properly," said delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

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State budget cuts, unfunded mandates and aging schools have put a squeeze on the county's budget, officials said.

The commissioners are asking for the authority to charge a tax of up to 1 percent on real estate transfers, which would raise $6.4 million.

"The last thing a Republican group wants to do is raise taxes. We just recognize the need," said Commissioner James Kercheval.

If the delegation and the Maryland General Assembly grant the county new taxing authority, the commissioners would have to go through a public hearing process before implementing new taxes.

The county is looking for a way to make sure first-time and low-income home buyers are exempt from paying a transfer tax, Commissioner Doris Nipps said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said a transfer tax, which is opposed by real estate agents, does not target people moving into the county to help pay for growth.

An excise tax charged on new construction, which is opposed by builders, is one way to ensure fairness, Shank said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said an excise tax alone would not raise enough money and a transfer tax spreads the burden over more taxpayers.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, suggested a combination of the two.

A transfer tax will increase closing costs in Maryland, which are among the highest in the country, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

But Munson said he fears if the delegation doesn't do something, the county will be forced to raise property taxes.

A substantial property tax increase would be needed to generate the same amount of money as a transfer tax, Snook said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said the county has a genuine need for more money.

"I feel that we have five good county commissioners. I don't believe they would ask for something unless they truly believe they need it," Myers said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he has reservations about the county's request because it was not unanimous.

"I did not sense a strong request. At best, they were divided on many issues. What I like to see from my county commissioners is a solid request from a full majority," Donoghue said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who opposes the request, asked what happened to a cost-cutting plan Commissioner William Wivell proposed several years ago.

Wivell said some things have been implemented but the plan has not been reviewed by the current board of commissioners, which took office last month.

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