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Commissioners say homeowners should get rebate checks

February 01, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously endorsed mailing rebate checks, possibly worth at least $100, to thousands of taxpayers who own homes or other residential buildings in the county if the county's finances remain stable for the current fiscal year.

The commissioners previously set aside $2 million for rebates, but the total amount distributed could jump to $5 million if the county's revenues and expenditures stay on track, Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray said.

The commissioners agreed by consensus to support the rebates, but held off taking an official vote until the details are worked out.

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The commissioners have said over the last several weeks that they favored providing some type of relief for taxpayers in the midst of rising property assessments.

"That $100 helps ... fixed-income people," County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said.

The rebate checks probably would be mailed by the end of August or early September, Murray said. Approximately 40,000 taxable residential accounts would be eligible for the rebates.

The $5 million that could go toward rebates consists of the $2 million the commissioners set aside from fiscal year 2005's budget surplus and the possible $3 million from this year's budget, Murray said.

The rebate discussion wasn't listed on the commissioners' agenda for Tuesday's meeting, but it came up during comments made by Commissioner John C. Munson.

Munson said he thought the commissioners should decide at the meeting whether the $2 million that previously had been set aside for rebates be distributed to residential or commercial property owners.

Shoop then informed the commissioners that staff members had been working on a plan that would allow the larger rebates for taxpayers who own homes and other residential structures.

"I like that idea," Munson said.

"I can go along with that," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said. "You guys seem to have thought that out."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he supports the rebates but that the commissioners still have "assessment issues" to work out.

Last week, Munson proposed a series of tax reduction measures and suggested that taxpayers send e-mail, call or mail letters to the commissioners letting them know their thoughts about tax relief.

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 may rise each year; and ask state lawmakers for the ability to exempt the first $25,000 of assessed value of a property from taxes.

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.

Wivell has said he would like to look at lowering the assessment cap and an across-the-board tax exemption that affects owner-occupied and tenant-occupied properties.

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