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Shank pleased with county action on lowering tax cap

March 30, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - The Washington County Commissioners' decision to lower the property tax assessment cap "shows the discussions between the commissioners and the delegation were fruitful," the chairman of the county's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly said Wednesday.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he was "very pleased the county commissioners acted on their own."

The delegation had forced the commissioners' hand by drafting state legislation to force the commissioners to lower the cap from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Based on a promise by the commissioners to lower the cap this week, the delegation last week amended the bill to drop references to the cap altogether and simply allow the county government to issue tax credits until the lower cap is effective in fiscal year 2008.

The House of Delegates approved the amended bill Friday. It is pending in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

"We had been hearing from our constituents for over two years about what a burden these assessments had become," Shank said.

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Though questions arose Tuesday about whether tax credits should be issued this year, Shank said the delegation would go forward with the bill to give the commissioners authority to issue credits.

"We introduced the credits because that seemed to be the direction the commissioners were leaning in," he said. The delegation decided to seek that authority after learning the county government couldn't issue credits without it.

Going forward with the bill "puts the mechanism in place to do it" if the commissioners choose to give tax credits this year, he said. "I think it's important that something happens before the 2008 tax year," Shank added, "but what form that takes is ultimately up to the commissioners."

The bill is effective for one year only, he noted, "then it will go away. (The commissioners) operate on a different calendar than we do; it's a safe option to leave our bill alone.

"My point is that our constituents are demanding some sort of tax relief. It's not our place to dictate what form the tax relief will take."

Shank also responded to a reported statement by Commissioner Doris J. Nipps that the state was not interested in providing tax relief.

"Gov. (Robert) Ehrlich has in fact on several occasions supported lowering the tax rate," Shank said. "It's ultimately up to the Board of Public Works to make that decision."

Ehrlich budgeted a property tax cut into this year's operating budget proposal, but the cut requires approval from Public Works.

About 50 tax credit bills, both local and statewide, are still pending in the General Assembly, and a bill that expands the state's homeowners tax credit program has been approved by both houses. It raises the assessed value for homes available for the credit from $150,000 to $250,000.

House bills 1065, 5

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