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Target tax rebates to those in greatest need

February 02, 2006

Is a $100 property-tax rebate a generous refund from the Washington County government or a sum that isn't big enough to make a difference to most taxpayers?

No doubt it depends on your personal financial situation. But before the county board takes a final vote, we would like to see some effort made to target the greatest relief to those who are most in need.

On Tuesday, the County Commissioners agreed to support such a rebate, but held off on a final vote until the details of the proposal are worked out.

The consensus came after Debra Murray, the county's budget and finance director, said that the amount available for rebates might be as much as $5 million, if revenues and expenditures stay as predicted.

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The discussion of tax relief began last year when the county experienced the largest increase in property values since the 1980s.

A citizen group formed, noting in July that neighboring Frederick County had already approved a rebate of $100 for fiscal year 2006.

The effort gained steam recently when Commissioner John Munson asked citizens to contact his fellow commissioners, saying he didn't feel they were truly committed to tax relief.

Commissioner William Wivell wants to go further and reduce the cap on the annual phase-in of new assessed value from its current level of 10 percent, the highest allowed under state law.

Wivell also wants help for renters affected by property-tax increases on the properties where they live.

Under state law, there is already help available for fixed-income homeowners and renters. Last month County Treasurer Todd Hershey said that in fiscal year 2005, Maryland sent $1.1 million in credits to local homeowners and about $58,000 to renters.

Our concern is that a one-year rebate that goes to all property owners regardless of income won't help fixed-income residents as much as a program targeted to them.

Does everyone deserve some relief? Yes, but in our view, those who have paid taxes for many years and who are now past their peak earning years deserve something additional.

So by all means, OK the rebates, but try to figure out a way to send those with the greatest need a little bit more.

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