Shank, commissioners negotiating over tax cap

March 16, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER


With a bill to cap taxes on property assessments at 5 percent in Washington County facing an uncertain future, Del. Christopher B. Shank decided to negotiate with the County Commissioners to set the cap themselves.

Shank, chairman of the local delegation to the General Assembly, said Wednesday that House Ways and Means Committee members were concerned the bill "establishes a precedent" of having the Legislature impose tax rates on local governments. All other tax caps in the state were set either by local governments or by voter referenda, Shank said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, serve on the Ways and Means Committee. McKee noted Wednesday that delegates from two other counties, Cecil and Carroll, filed similar bills.


Shank, R-Washington, said committee members asked why the Washington County Commissioners weren't setting the caps themselves.

"The best course of action would be for the commissioners to impose it themselves," Shank said.

Shank has made a point of reminding fellow legislators that the delegation raised the issue of property taxes last year, when the commissioners sought a revision to an excise tax on new development.

The resulting legislation, approved just before midnight on the last day of the General Assembly, included provisions requiring the county government to study and report the impact of tax rate reductions on county revenues.

"We were disappointed that in the intervening year the commissioners failed to act," Shank said earlier this month.

County officials have asked for a further revision to the excise tax legislation that would permit the county to waive the tax for some new businesses. That bill is pending before the Ways and Means Committee, Shank said Wednesday.

Though discussions between Shank, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Vice President William J. Wivell were ongoing, Shank said "we're engaged in a timing issue," because the commissioners' budget process doesn't coincide with General Assembly session, which ends April 10.

Shank said the commissioners might not be able to commit to a tax cap in time for the end of the session. For that reason, he said, the delegation's bill is still active.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, filed a companion bill in the Senate. That bill is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

He also filed emergency enabling legislation that would permit the county to issue tax rebates for the taxable year that begins July 1. That bill is in the Senate Rules Committee. No hearing has been scheduled.

Bills filed after the initial filing deadline must go through the Rules Committee. Munson filed the bill after county officials discovered they weren't authorized to issue tax rebates.

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