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Math miscalculation means residents' rebates will shrink

September 21, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

For at least a few hours Tuesday morning, the Washington County Commissioners were prepared to hand out about $400 tax rebates to county property owners.

Around lunchtime, however, the size of the rebates had shrunk to between $40 and $57, after commissioners found out they miscalculated the amount.

The commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to set aside $2 million of a $12 million surplus from fiscal year 2005, which ended June 30.

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Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said the $12 million was a "monumental" surplus for the county and recommended the $2 million rebate for property owners.

With about 50,000 taxable accounts, those owners would each receive about a $400 refund, one of the commissioners said.

The amount of the refund wasn't challenged by the other commissioners at the meeting.

A few hours after the vote, county officials realized the mistake and that the rebates would only amount to about $40 per owner.

"I figured that was wrong when somebody said that," Commissioner John C. Munson said after the meeting.

If the rebates were to go to residential property owners and not business owners, the amount would be about $57, Wivell said after the meeting.

Wivell pitched the refund idea, saying taxpayers are being hit hard by rising costs.

"I think the residents are the ones that are being squeezed ..." Wivell said during the meeting.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said by phone Tuesday that commissioners plan to discuss whether to distribute the rebate money to residential property owners only or to include business owners.

He said he was considering asking that small business owners receive rebates as well.

The commissioners also will discuss whether to issue refund checks or credit tax accounts.

"I'm thinking because of the difference in the amount, we'll probably just credit tax accounts," Snook said.

Munson said he would like the commissioners to use more of the surplus toward the rebates.

Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray told the commissioners that the $12 million surplus is mainly a result of increased income and recordation tax revenues in fiscal year 2005.

The county received an additional $4 million in income tax and an additional $3.2 million in recordation tax revenues, she said.

Murray said the income tax revenue increase is a result of people with high-paying jobs moving to the county. The recordation tax is collected when property sales are recorded.

In addition to the rebates, the commissioners voted to give $3.5 million of the surplus to the Board of Education for maintenance projects, $1 million for road maintenance and rehabilitation, $320,000 toward moving costs for the Washington County Commission on Aging and $3.5 million toward the county's cash reserves.

Munson said the additional $1 million toward road repairs will bring the county's budget for the work to about $5 million for this fiscal year. The county plans to spend $5 million a year over the next five years on road improvements, he said.

"The roads have been let go too long in the county, and the public deserves better," he said.

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