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Lawmakers decline to push flat tax

January 23, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County lawmakers on Thursday shot down a plan to charge property owners $10 a year to pay for land preservation.

A request of the Washington County Commissioners, the flat tax would have replaced a requirement that the county spend $400,000 of its transfer tax collections on land preservation.

At the first meeting of the session for the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, made a motion to submit the flat tax legislation. His motion died for lack of a second, effectively killing the plan.

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Lawmakers said they thought the transfer tax, approved by the legislature last year, was a better way to raise the money.

Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said Thursday he agreed with the decision not to move ahead with the flat tax.

"I think people in Washington County have enough taxes on them," he said.

Munson said that while the flat tax revenue would have been put aside for farmland preservation, he didn't think the transfer tax would have been lowered. He said he thought the county would have used the $400,000 from the transfer tax earmarked for preservation for other expenses.

"I'm sure the transfer tax would not have been rolled back," Munson said.

The transfer tax is levied on the transfer of properties with an exemption of the first $50,000. Washington County residents who are first-time home buyers receive a 50 percent reduction on the tax on homes under $115,000.

"That's fine," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said of the delegation's flat tax decision. "It's just another tax. I guess the county residents will be spared that one."

Wivell said the commissioners would have discussed whether the transfer tax should have been reduced if the proposal were approved, but it's possible it may have stayed at the same rate.

He said the delegation could have put a requirement in the bill that the transfer tax rate be rolled back.

Wivell has said the flat tax would have been a more balanced way to pay for the cost of preserving farmland, because it would have been charged to taxable real estate accounts.

Under the transfer tax, only those who are purchasing property are responsible for generating the $400,000 to preserve agricultural land.

Staff writer Tara Reilly contributed to this story.

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