Taxes, fees climbing

At city, county and state levels, residents are paying more for everything from flushing their toilets to receiving copies of po

At city, county and state levels, residents are paying more for everything from flushing their toilets to receiving copies of po

April 25, 2004|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Pretend that, through the miracle of cloning or cryonics or some such, Jonathan Hager were to return from the 18th century to modern-day Hagerstown ? the city he founded in the heart of Washington County, in Western Maryland.

If Hager were back, death no longer would be a certainty ? but at least four levels of taxation would.

The following fanciful, hypothetical narrative illustrates the new and increased taxes and fees Hager might face this year at three of those levels ? city, county and state. Hagerstown and Washington County still are considering new budgets, while the next state budget is in place.

Federal taxation, in this instance, will be set aside, a discussion for another day.

Since he exceeds 62 years old by about 225 years, Hager qualifies for the senior citizen discount for a round of golf at Hagerstown Greens at Hamilton Run.


After a sunny, but unspectacular, weekday round of 18 holes, he drives downtown to run some errands.

He pulls his Porsche Carrera turbo convertible into a spot at the parking deck and walks across North Potomac Street to City Hall.

Hager stops at the planning department to find out whether he can build a house on a parcel he owns near the golf course. He envisions a fancy, but cozy 1,700-square-foot, single-family house worth $200,000.

The answer is yes, and Hager, using his clout as the father of the city, has the staff rush a permit through the system. He'll take care of the Washington County excise tax later.

He stops to pay a fee for bouncing a check to pay his last city water bill. Hager thinks to himself how both his water and sewer service are getting more expensive.

Hager leaves the parking deck and circles around the downtown to the Hagerstown Police Department, where he gets fingerprinted for his new job as a security guard.

He also gets a burglar alarm permit for his current home, a $150,000 rancher in the West End.

Pulling out of the parking lot at the police station, wham!

Hager smacks into a Hyundai Tiburon that he didn't see until it was too late. The Tiburon rebounds into a pickup truck, which hits another car, which grazes a motorcycle.

West Washington Street is a mess.

The investigating police officer writes a 10-page report. Hager, again wielding his influence, buys a copy on the spot.

His Porsche is dented, but drivable. He hurries off to the Motor Vehicle Administration office; he only had a day to spare before the registration expired.

At about 3,500 pounds, the Porsche barely qualifies as "small" under the state's weight cutoff.

With his sports car now legal for another two years, Hager stops at the Humane Society of Washington County's shelter. He's been thinking about getting himself him a dog.

He leaves the shelter with Gibbons, a terrier mix ? and a lizard he names Mazzilli.

When he gets home, Hager lights up a cigarette ? it's been a hectic day ? but he thinks better of smoking it. He tosses it in the toilet and flushes it away.

Hager decides to sleep off his stress ? until he can get back on the golf course tomorrow and solve that vile slice he's acquired.

The bill

If the city and county budget are approved as they currently stand, Hager will pay:

  • $200 per year for his senior citizen golf pass, up from $175.

  • $570 per year for his parking deck permit, up from $540.

  • $25 for advice on the zoning of his land, a new fee.

  • $1,080 for his residential building permit, up from $795.

  • $850 for the county's excise tax, up from $425, assuming the house is built in 2005.

  • $35 for his bad check, up from $33.

  • $75.40 for his water service for the year, up from $72.80 (based on average usage of 52,000 gallons).

  • $177.84 for his sewer service for the year, up from $171.60 (based on average usage of 52,000 gallons).

  • $12.50 for fingerprinting, up from $10.

  • $25 for his burglar alarm permit, up from $20.

  • $11 for his copy of the police report, instead of $6.50.

  • $1,197 for the city property tax on his $150,000 house, up from $1,174.50.

  • $128 to re-register his car for two years, up from $81.

  • $100 to adopt the dog, up from $90.

  • $50 to adopt the lizard, a new fee.

  • $30 per year to flush his toilet, a new fee.

The city's budget policy calls for it to look at fees each year and, if necessary, increase them gradually, instead of by large amounts all at once, said Al Martin, the city's finance director.

Although the county increased its water and sewer charges by 3 percent, it decided not to increase its real estate and income taxes, said Debra Bastian, the county's budget and finance director.

On Wednesday, Maryland's Board of Public Works kept the state property tax rate at 13.2 cents per $100 of full assessed value.

The state approved its fiscal year 2005 budget April 12.

The city and the county are likely to pass their budgets in May.

The total

Hager spent $972.34 more on one-time and annual expenses than he would have before the taxes and fees were increased or started ? probably enough to fill up the gas tank in his Porsche a couple of times.

Instead of spending $3,594.40 before the prices increased, he paid $4,566.74.

Hager's new house clearly was his largest financial burden. His second-biggest added expense was $47 to re-register his car ? $3 less than the cost of adopting a lizard.

The Herald-Mail Articles