Despite a late effort by Commissioner Doug Howard to persuade the other members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners to lower the business personal property tax rate, the board has voted to keep tax levels flat during the coming fiscal year.
The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, in opposition. Frazier, who proposed a two cent real property tax increase, said he agreed with Howard that business property tax should be lowered but felt the budget issues facing the county in fiscal year 2016 made a decrease unwarranted.
He also said that though the use of $8.2 million of $8.9 million in one-time funds — which shrunk the gap between the county staff's recommended budget and funding requests from Carroll's agencies and allied organizations — solved some issues in 2016, it will widen the funding gap even further in out years.
If the commissioners had voted to increase taxes, he said, it would enable them to hold onto a greater portion of one-time funds in case of unforeseen funding needs in fiscal year 2016 and provide structural stability to the budget in out years.
"I recall when we were campaigning, we all said, 'We're not going to kick the can down the road,' " said Frazier, R-District 3. "By moving one-time funds, we are kicking the can down the road."
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said staff is projecting consistent revenue growth over the next six years, which in turn justifies the use of one-time funds for the time being.
"I believe we will see positive revenue growth, so I'm happy to [have] kicked that can until we see where we are down the road," Wantz said.
Wantz also said he was opposed to any motion to either increase or decrease taxes. He then made the motion to keep tax rates level for 2016, which carried 4-1.
"At this time, it's wrong to tax our way out of a problem," Wantz said. "However, we are in this position because of the tax reductions made by the last board. We need to maintain, and I'm pretty sure everyone [in the county] will be onboard with that. I will not support any increase whatsoever, and I will not support a decrease."
Frazier said if the board were to raise taxes and revenue grows as is projected, the commissioners could then decide to "give some of that money back" to taxpayers in later fiscal years.
Howard, R-District 5, said that while he sides with Wantz in opposition to raising taxes, his suggestion to lower business personal property tax by 1.5 cents in fiscal year 2016 and additional penny every year through 2021, while not significant, would send a "clear message" to business owners who are considering Carroll.
For every penny the business personal property tax is lowered, county government is expected to lose about $55,000 in recurring revenue.
"If we start raising taxes, we will negate the positive influence previous tax decreases had on improving the economy," Howard said. "We need to decrease taxes to attract businesses and residents to improve the tax base of the county."
Howard entered a amendment to Wantz's motion to keep the real property tax and income tax rates the same as the current fiscal year, but lower the business personal property tax as suggested, but it failed to hold up, gaining only support from Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2.
Weaver said he would like to see this board eventually lower the business property tax — and perhaps eliminate it altogether. When a business owner acquires office equipment, tools and machinery, among other things, they are taxed on these purchases, and the business tax is nothing but a "tax on a tax."
"I have never agreed with business tax; it is a burden on business people in the county," Weaver said. "That's why I support [lowering it] and perhaps eliminating it … in the long term."
Wantz then entered a motion to approve what the commissioners had accomplished as the operating budget. The vote was 3-2, with Frazier and Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, voting against it.
The commissioners are set to unveil their budget Tuesday, which will be followed by a series of local meetings and a final public hearing.
The Carroll County Board of Commissioners will release its proposed fiscal year 2016 budget during a meeting Tuesday, April 28. The budget will then be opened up for public comment during a series of local meetings at branches of the Carroll County Public Library, followed by a final public hearing.
Community budget presentations:
April 28, North Carroll branch, 2255 Hanover Pike, Hampstead
April 29, Taneytown branch, 10 Grand Drive, Taneytown
April 30, Eldersburg branch, 6400 Hemlock Drive, Eldersburg
May 4, Mount Airy branch, 705 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy
May 5, Westminster branch, 50 E. Main St., Westminster
Latest Carroll County News
May 7, Budget Public Hearing, Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster