The leader of a citizens coalition that strongly protested a 12-centtax rate increase two years ago praised the Town Council Monday night for maintaining a level rate for the second consecutive year.

But she did suggest the council still could have done better.

Following a hearing that lasted less than 30 minutes and drew fewcomments, the council voted unanimously to adopt a $1.02 million fiscal 1992 budget that maintains a tax rate of 60 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

"Councilmen will have to live within their means," said Barbara Darneal, chairwoman of the Mount Airy Citizens Coalition. "They won't have a slush fund.

"There's nothing to protest this time around. We are grateful they didn't raise taxes. We appreciate that they have tried to keep the budget down."

Darneal said in past years it appeared the council could be maintaining a "slush fund" because some expenditures weren't listed in detail. Councilman R. Delaine Hobbs said those items were mostly small purchases.

Several of the 10 residents in attendance expressed satisfaction that thecouncil had not proposed any major spending increases.

But one resident expressed concern that the council had allocated only $500 to senior citizen activities.

In 1989, a group of residents presenteda petition signed by about 250 people protesting the 12-cent increase in the 48-cent tax rate intended to pay for an additional Maryland State Police trooper, increased waste disposal fees, emergency services professionals and other rising municipal costs.

The 60-cent taxrate means owners of the average $134,000 home will pay $321 in municipal property taxes, in addition to $1,260 in county taxes.

The fiscal 1992 budget --which starts July 1 -- represents a slim 1.5 percent increase over the current year's $1.006 million spending plan. The budget rose nearly 50 percent, from $621,900 to $925,625, in fiscal1990.

Although the council did not raise the taxes, the rate still is four cents above the constant yield. The constant yield is the rate at which the town generates the same amount in property taxes forfiscal 1992 as it did this year.

Because of rising property values, the town will collect $28,900 more in property taxes next year than this year.

Darneal questioned why the council could not lower the tax rate for next year to 56 cents, the constant yield rate.

"While there may be some justification in exceeding the constant yield by four cents, there are hazards in permitting taxes to escalate," shewrote in a memo, read to the council by Mayor Gerald Johnson. "Once the upward spiraling begins it is often next to impossible to bring taxes back down.

"Do any of you foresee a return to the lower figure in the near future? Do we have a noticeable increase in our qualityof life for the 12-cent increase?"

Robert Darneal suggested the council could cut "some of the foolishness," such as expenditures on some small items for an appreciation dinner for town volunteers, budgeted for $4,000.

Following the hearing, council members, who had participated in previous budget workshops, didn't discuss any aspects of the plan.

Councilman Billy Wagner offered the only comment before the vote.

"We've done good work," he said. "I feel comfortable with it."

The council expects to save money through its hiring of atown planner, Teresa Merten, at an annual salary of $33,000 for fiscal 1992.

The town had paid a private engineering consultant more than $100,000 over an 18-month period during the last two fiscal yearsfor planning services.

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