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Aberdeen proposes property tax break for new employees

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A proposal to give a partial property tax rebate to encourage new municipal employees to live in the city of Aberdeen is under consideration by the Aberdeen City Council.

Resolution 18-R-02, or “New Employee Residence Incentive Policy,” was introduced during the May 6 council meeting and is sponsored by Councilmen Tim Lindecamp and Steve Goodin.

Lindecamp said the resolution is a first draft, and the council will keep working on it as he and his colleagues are seeking changes.

“We can get started on trying to make some changes that get our employees to live in our city,” he said.

The resolution, as introduced, states the 50 percent rebate is good for up to five years, as long as the recipient lives in Aberdeen and is a full-time city employee.

The employee must reapply for the rebate each year and submit proof of payment of real property taxes. The rebate, once paid, is categorized as income on the employee’s annual W-2 tax form, according to the resolution.

The introduction May 6 means the resolution is “out there for the public to see,” Mayor Patrick McGrady said during the council meeting.

“We’re going to continue working on it in council,” he said.

The Town of Bel Air offers its employees “equal to or for a portion” of their base real property taxes, according to a policy adopted by the town commissioners in 2007.

The rebate is considered taxable income, according to a copy of the policy provided by Michael Krantz, the town’s director of human resources and administration.

“It’s a wonderful benefit, and it does help us attract and retain employees to the Town of Bel Air,” Krantz said Wednesday.

Eligible recipients must be full-time employees and have worked for the town for one year, own a residential property in the town limits for at least one year, be named on the deed as the property owner, declare it as their primary residence and not owe any back taxes to Bel Air or Harford County, or owe any sewer bills, according to the policy.

“It encourages employees to take that much more pride in their town, and of course they take a greater pride in their job,” Krantz said.

Aberdeen’s proposal was the subject of a spirited debate during a mayor and council work session May 6, prior to the city council meeting.

“What we’re trying to do is, get our employees to live in Aberdeen,” Lindecamp said. “You drive down any street in Aberdeen, you see a ‘for sale’ sign.”

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck expressed concern that many employees on the lower end of the salary scale cannot afford to buy a house in the city.

“Because the taxes are too high?” McGrady remarked.

Aberdeen has the highest real property tax rate, $0.6502 per $100 of valuation, of Harford County’s three municipalities.

“First of all, [employees] can’t afford to buy on their salary, they can’t afford to rent,” Landbeck said, without comment on the tax rate. “There is no way that our trash collectors are going to be buying houses in Aberdeen.”

McGrady pushed back on the issue of affordability. He calculated an employee who makes $13.62 per hour could afford a monthly house payment of $1,573, which he called “a mortgage for even our middle-priced homes in Aberdeen.”

“Many perceive that they cannot afford it,” Landbeck said.

Lindecamp asked how much of an incentive the city gives volunteer members of the Aberdeen Fire Department. City Manager Randy Robertson said it is up to $300.

Lindecamp said he wants to see a similar incentive granted to all full-time city workers, whether they are new or current employees.

“If you give them an incentive over their whole career, it’s better than just giving an incentive over five years,” he said.

Lindecamp also cited emergencies that require city workers to report for duty, such as a blizzard or the March 2 wind storm that caused major damage to infrastructure in Harford and Cecil counties, even forcing the state to close the Route 40 and Interstate 95 bridges across the Susquehanna River, stranding motorists on both sides.

“What would happen if we had a major situation here and all those people we needed that live in Cecil County couldn’t get here to help us?” he asked.

McGrady asked if employees might live just outside the city, such as on Aldino-Stepney Road, and take advantage of lower Harford County property taxes.

“I agree in concept, interesting,” he said of the proposed city incentive.

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