Panel would study effect of higher assessments

February 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Complaints from property owners stunned by their new tax assessments have prompted members of the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly to pursue creation of a property tax commission that would analyze the impact of increasing assessments.

The delegation agreed Wednesday to sponsor legislation to create the commission. According to a draft proposal, the commission would have seven members - four appointed by the delegation and three appointed by the Washington County Commissioners.

Ex-officio members would be appointed by the commissioners and the Washington County Municipal League.

The commission would study the effect on the county budget of capping property tax assessments, giving tax credits to senior citizens and reducing property taxes.


The commission would host at least one public hearing and make a report to the commissioners and the delegation by Nov. 30.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank said forming the commission was not a request of the county commissioners, but rather a response to concerns expressed by county residents.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the commission was needed because the value of property in Washington County is rising so rapidly that working families can't afford to purchase housing.

"We need to keep property taxes as low as possible," he said.

The delegation also revisited the local issue that has dominated their meetings so far this session, the county's request for revision of the excise tax law.

The commissioners this week asked for a number of changes to the proposed legislation, but the delegation opted to let some provisions stand.

Following discussion last week that the excise tax on nonresidential development should be capped at $1 per square foot, the commissioners noted that contracts under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance range from $3 to $4 already and asked the delegation to put the cap at $5. Delegation members agreed, as Munson put it, to "conform the law to the practice."

But the delegation declined the county's request to change a provision requiring tax credits for workforce housing to "may." The delegation also kept a section added at the request of Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington, to require a committee to review school construction.

The delegation also agreed to require the county to reserve a minimum of $1.8 million per year for agricultural land preservation. The money could come from state, federal and local sources.

Delegation members had discussed requiring $1 million for preservation, but that proposal died last week, partly because of a misunderstanding. Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, thought that provision, as proposed by Munson, required $1 million in local money, and he and Del. Rick Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, voted against it. McKee said he would have voted for it had he understood the money could come from sources other than the county.

On Wednesday, Munson explained that the money could come from other sources as well, adding that "I think it really needs to be higher than $1 million." He noted that surrounding counties already were making such commitments to agricultural land preservation.

McKee voted against the provision, but the majority prevailed.

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