Munson looking for support on a county property tax cut

January 26, 2006|by TARA REILLY


Frustrated by what he says is a lack of support by the majority of the Washington County Commissioners to cut property taxes, Commissioner John C. Munson said Wednesday he wants taxpayers to start speaking their minds.

Munson said in a phone interview that he thinks the commissioners should reduce property taxes, a move he believes would be supported by taxpayers.

But he didn't think he had the three votes needed by the five-member board of commissioners to support a tax cut.


"So what's the answer?" Munson asked.

"Taxpayers need to start sending the commissioners letters, e-mails and in person, telling all the commissioners ... what they want," Munson said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Wednesday he's willing to listen to Munson's tax cut plan, but so far, Munson has provided no details.

"If he has details for his proposal, then I'm willing to listen to it," Snook said.

Snook said the commissioners likely will be providing some tax relief, "but you have to have the facts before you make a decision."

Snook said earlier this month the county will distribute $2 million in rebates to taxpayers, but it was too early to say exactly how the money will be distributed.

He said the commissioners would know more over the next several weeks as they work on the budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioners James F. Kercheval have said they support looking at tax relief efforts.

Kercheval said Wednesday that before the commissioners decide how to provide tax relief, they must first review revenue, expenses and financial requests from county departments and organizations for the upcoming budget. The commissioners haven't yet seen that information. He said they'll review it over the next three months.

"It's not a matter of no support for John," Kercheval said. "It's just that John is premature on what he's doing ... That's not how you run a good business."

Munson made several tax relief proposals at Tuesday's commissioners meeting, saying the help is needed in the midst of rising property assessments.

"It's time we start doing that," Munson said Wednesday. "People are being taxed to death. It's got to stop."

Munson said he wants the commissioners to reduce the county's property tax rate to the constant yield property tax rate, which would shave about six cents off the property tax rate; lower the cap on how much assessments can rise a year; and ask state lawmakers for the ability to exempt the first $25,000 of assessed value of a property from taxes.

Snook said Munson's proposal lacked details.

The constant yield tax rate is set up to provide local governments with stable property tax revenue each year. As property assessments rise, the constant yield drops to the point where the revenue generated by the property tax stays at a constant level from one year to the next, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

The county's property tax rate is nearly 95 cents per $100 of assessed value, while the constant yield tax rate is 91 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

Munson said the new constant yield tax rate will be released by the state next month, which will give the commissioners a better indication of how much can be shaved off the property tax rate.

He said some of the tax cut could be absorbed by trimming "fat" from the county's budget. Anything not absorbed by trimming the budget didn't have to be made up, he said.

"There isn't one budget or one organization that doesn't have some fat on it," Munson said. "You look for the fat and you cut it out, and it'll help."

Snook said unless Munson wanted to cut public safety or education dollars, there wasn't much to cut.

"Maybe we can start with roads and highways if he wants to," Snook said.

Munson has said publicly several times that improving county roads should be a top priority of the commissioners.

"I'm about at the end of my line with the waste in this county, and I'm about at the end of my line with people who don't want to cut property taxes," Munson said.

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