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Howard Co. Republicans seek change in charter for tax hikes

Howard County Republicans want a charter amendment to make it harder to raise local taxes, trying to mine what they say are voter concerns ahead of November's election, though a 2004 attempt by a citizens' anti-tax group failed.

County Councilman Greg Fox, the only Republican on the five-member council, is joining with council candidates and former Ehrlich administration officials Robert L. Flanagan and Dennis R. Schrader to advocate a charter change to require a four-vote council majority to increase taxes instead of a simple majority of three members. The county's Republican Club also plans to aid in a petition drive to collect 10,000 valid signatures by Aug. 9 to get the issue on the November ballot. A similar drive by the Howard County Taxpayers' Association after an income tax increase in 2004 failed to collect more than about 3,000 names.

"What we're finding is that there's a lot of voter concern that taxes are going to go up dramatically next year," said Schrader, who served on the council in the 1990s. However, the county cannot raise income taxes, which are at the legal limit.

Council chairwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat who Flanagan wants to unseat, said she's not necessarily opposed to a charter amendment as long as it covers votes to raise fees, as well as general taxes. "Flanagan pushed for historic fee increases as [state] secretary of transportation," she said.

Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, responded by noting that, with a Democratic county executive and a four-vote majority on the council, "we haven't raised [general] taxes in Howard County over the last four years." The county did increase its fire property tax — dedicated for support of the Fire Department — by 1 cent per $100 of value in fiscal 2008.

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