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Transfer tax bid rejected

February 13, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County lawmakers on Wednesday dismissed Washington County Board of Education President Bernadette Wagner's request to raise the amount of a proposed transfer tax and devote the money to education.

Washington County Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee asked lawmakers attending their weekly meeting whether anyone had an interest in Wagner's proposal.

No one responded.

McKee, R-Washington, said lawmakers did not want to change state legislation they agreed to seek two weeks ago. That legislation would allow the Washington County Commissioners to seek a real estate transfer tax of up to .5 percent.

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A tax at that rate would increase closing costs by $750 on a $150,000 house.

A transfer tax, combined with a proposed excise tax of up to $1 per square foot on new construction, would raise a projected $5 million.

While most of the money would go toward school renovation, lawmakers said it could be spent on public safety, farmland preservation and debt reduction.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Wagner said the school system is going to need more money to meet the state's mandate for all-day kindergarten by 2007 and meet the requirements of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" act.

All-day kindergarten will cost $1.6 million a year for the next four years for additional classroom space, she said. New textbooks and teacher training to meet the federal law will cost $8 million.

The school system has to spend an extra $2 million next year just to maintain its current health insurance benefits for employees, she said.

"Nobody likes to raise taxes, but if you're going to raise them you certainly should meet the needs of the community where you live," Wagner said.

McKee said lawmakers decided not to change the tax proposal because it could destroy the legislation, which was a compromise between the County Commissioners, Realtors and home builders.

If lawmakers were to seek a larger transfer tax, Realtors could try to block the bill from passing the Maryland General Assembly.

"A guarantee of some money is better than none," McKee said.

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