The Anne Arundel County Council voted 4-3 Monday against a resolution placing an income tax cap referendum on the 2020 election ballot, although that may not be the idea’s final defeat as the sponsoring councilman pledged to gather signatures to get the question before voters.
Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, sponsored Resolution 18-19 that would have established a 2.5% income tax cap. Volke put forth the resolution following County Executive Steuart Pittman’s proposed tax increase from 2.5% to 2.81% in the fiscal year 2020 budget.
Volke pledged to bring the income tax cap to the voters through the petition process. He would need 10,000 signatures.
Like the county property tax revenue cap — passed in 1992 — voters should decide if they want a cap on income taxes, Volke said.
“I don’t see anything procedurally wrong to put this before the voters and let them weigh in,” Volke said. “This budget is an inflection point in the county.”
Republicans joined him in voting for the resolution. Democrats opposed the resolution, saying it limited the county’s fiscal flexibility. Volke needed five votes to pass the resolution since County Charter amendments require a super majority of the council.
Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan Rodvien, D-Annapolis, said she wasn’t opposed to the idea of an income tax cap but didn’t think the county’s current rate of 2.5% would solve its education and public safety needs.
Rodvien, who is a county teacher, said she often teaches classes with more than 40 students.
Pittman’s administration opposed Volke’s resolution.
It could lower the county’s bond rating and would “jeopardize the fiscal health of the county,” said Pete Baron, county government affairs officer.
Pittman’s income tax increase was proposed alongside a property tax rate increase from 90.2 cents per $100 assessed value to 93.5 cents per assessed value. While the county has a property tax revenue cap, state law allows counties to bypass the cap to fund education.
Criticisms of this plan include residents asking for no tax increase while others ask for the increases to be spread over the course of multiple budgets. Supporters have asked the council to pass the tax increases to pay for proposed public safety and education funding.
More than a dozen residents spoke for and against Volke’s proposed resolution.
Alfa Stevens of Severn urged the council to vote down the resolution because it limits the county’s ability to respond to “community needs and opportunities.” Stevens is the president of the League of Women Voters of Anne Arundel County.
“Taxes should be determined by careful consideration, debate and deliberation, and not by an arbitrary number,” Stevens said during her testimony. “As council members, you were elected by us to govern and to act in the best interest of your constituents and the county to keep this county a great place — the ‘best place’ — to live.”
Annapolis resident Ed Ervin asked the council to support Volke’s resolution. The county’s budget has grown large enough and voters already placed a cap on property tax revenue, Ervin said.
“I definitely support Councilman Volke for finally stepping up,” Ervin said. “Allow the voters to speak their will.”
The council voted unanimously to appoint Billie Penley as acting health officer through Oct. 1 as Pittman’s administration continues searching for a permanent health officer.
Penley was originally appointed to the position on Aug. 28 following then-acting health officer Fran Phillips’ departure. Phillips was named deputy Maryland health secretary.
The Anne Arundel County Health Department has not had a permanent health officer since June 1, 2017. Pittman took office in December 2018.
His administration planned to appoint a permanent health officer by the end of Penley’s tenure on June 1. Those plans did not come to fruition.
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The administration is actively looking for a permanent health officer, Baron said.
“The administration is committed to making sure we get his process right,” Baron said during his testimony. “When I was before the council a few months back, I was optimistic we would be moving quicker.”
The council also unanimously approved two 30 year leases with Morningside Stables, LLC for the Andover Equestrian Center in Linthicum and the Andy Smith Equestrian Center near Cape St. Claire.
Morningside Stables, LLC will pay $500 a month for each property with 4% increases each year. Each lease allows either Morningside or the county to terminate the lease with 120 days notice.
The new lease agreements replace the current ones finalized in May 2016. Those were shorter-term leases that were set to end Feb. 28, and rent was locked at $500 a month.