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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Garrett County considers raising property taxes
Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News — OAKLAND — Garrett County commissioners Tuesday discussed the possibility of raising property taxes more than 7 cents. The proposed tax increase would break down to about a 4.3-cent property tax — to meet a state-projected constant yield — and another 3 cent-plus to match a loss of funding to the board of education and any other losses, according to Chairman James Raley. If residents pay $1,000 on an existing home, they would be looking at a $70 increase, said Raley. The proposed tax increase is being considered to help fund a reduction of $3.6 million in tax revenue and deal with the projected impact of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s “doomsday” budget. “We need to determine how much we want to pay as a community. In many of my discussion with folks ... what resonated is how important people feel about community schools,” said Raley. “What didn’t resonate from those meetings was, is the public willing to pay more money to provide those kinds of services to keep community schools intact?” There is a reduction of more than $1.92 million in real estate tax revenue because of a reduction in the gross assessable base from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, according to Wendy Yoder, director for the Department of Financial Services. Property tax revenue is the county’s largest source of revenue, she said. The state has calculated that the constant yield rate should be $1.0331 in order to receive the same amount of real estate tax revenue in fiscal 2013 as was received in fiscal 2012. That state-projected constant yield rate is 4.31 cents higher than the current tax rate of 99 cents, according to Yoder. The progression of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget was delayed because it was contingent upon the outcome of the General Assembly, but now the county has decided to operate under the assumption that the “doomsday” budget holds, according to Yoder. “This is probably the first year in the budget process that I can remember where the budget has been this uncertain, while awaiting the outcome of the state,” said Yoder. “A special session could be called, which could change the impact on the county, but we have no other option at this time but to move forward to operate under the governor’s ‘doomsday’ budget.” Raley said he wasn’t optimistic that the board of education’s losses would be capped at $1.5 million. “As Mrs. Yoder said, we have to move forward at this point. The school board has to move forward,” said Raley. “The unfortunate and hard reality is we have to make our decision now based on the ‘doomsday’ budget because that is exactly what we have to work from.” In its current form, the “doomsday” budget reduces or eliminates state aid in a number of areas, many of which deal with education spending, according to the Associated Press. For example, $70 million in cuts would come from a reduction in per-pupil spending, which would drop from $6,761 to $6,650. The indirect impact of the budget caused a total $2.2 million loss in the state aid formula for the BOE, because of the elimination of the loss limitation. In the past, the county has always been able to go above and beyond in its appropriation to the BOE because of the maintenance of effort, said Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator. “We have been hit really hard here because of wealth and our assesments, which are actually down for next year and the declining student population,” said Pagenhardt. “It’s a double-edged sword.” In 2009, over $8 million in capital funding was used to renovate the county’s public schools, according to Pagenhardt. “We are very proud of that. In saying that, it is not the case today,” he said. The budget will also cause a 10 percent reduction to Garrett College, the elimination of cost-shifting teacher pensions and a reduction in library aid. “We did receive word that the reduction to the library system and the per-pupil reduction in state aid formula will not go into effect even though they were included in the “doomsday” budget. Because the General Assembly does not have the authority to cut mandated education aid without passing statutory changes,” said Yoder. Raley said he was fairly certain there would be a special session to address teacher pensions, adding there was $200 million of education funding on the table. The teacher pensions issue was one of the stalemates in the state budget process because the Senate had one version and the House had another version, said Raley. Pagenhardt said he was disappointed about the state’s failure to come up with a budget. “It’s a shame that the legislature couldn’t come up with a budget, which is their responsibility to do,” said Pagenhardt. “We are going to be OK. We haven’t overextended ourselves,” he said, adding that the county has been able to operate with less human and financial resources in the past. If the taxes were to be raised it would not likely stop the closings of Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools, but instead would prevent the closing of other schools in the future, according to Raley. During a special meeting on April 24, the BOE will make a final decision on the school closings. Contact Elaine Blaisdell at firstname.lastname@example.org More here. Buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland? Call Jay Ferguson of Railey Realty for all of your real estate needs! I take great pride in referrals, and I assure you, I will take great care of your friends, family & colleagues!