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Hagerstown wants share of proposed transfer tax

February 06, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown officials tried Wednesday to convince local lawmakers to give them a piece of Washington County's proposed transfer tax, but one lawmaker questioned their need.

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly did not take a vote, but lawmakers said they will consider the request.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, asked whether the city has tried to cut costs to fill a projected $2 million deficit in its $27 million operating budget.

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Mayor William M. Breichner said cuts will likely be part of the equation, but so will property tax increases unless the city gets a share of a proposed countywide real estate transfer tax.

"We're at the end of the barrel. We have the same problem, believe it or not. I think a lot of people forget we are subject to a lot of the same economic downturns the state is going through and the county is going through," Breichner said.

Breichner proposed that the city get a portion, perhaps 50 percent, of the real estate transfers that occur within the city.

The transfer tax would be capped at .5 percent for the first four years, under proposed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. That would translate into $750 on a $150,000 house.

City officials said the money would be used for public safety. One-quarter of the city's budget goes to the police department, which is losing state and federal grants.

But Shank said if the city gets a share of the transfer tax, it would leave the county with less money to renovate aging schools, which is the main purpose of the tax.

Breichner said the city does not want to hurt schools.

Shank also took the city to task about its failure to merge some of its services with the county and its failure to settle a lawsuit with the county over a sewer flow agreement. Because of the lawsuit, the city risks losing a $500,000 state grant, Shank said.

Breichner said the city and county are close to resolving their differences.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said lawmakers should find a way to help the city meet its public safety needs.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he was undecided.

"I do not want them to lose police. I don't want to deny money for education, either. We have some Solomon-like decisions to make," he said after the meeting.

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