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Brown seeks reimbursement of Westminster's 'lost' taxes County buildings cost town $85,766, he says


WESTMINSTER -- Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown told Carroll commissioners that the town's "honor" of being the county seat doesn't offset the loss of an estimated nearly $86,000 in real property taxes that would be paid if county government buildings could be taxed.

"We are not getting back what it costs us," he told the three commissioners at their monthly meeting Thursday in City Hall.

The commissioners also heard complaints on issues ranging from the distribution of county money to the volunteer fire associations to the commissioners' commitment to preserving forest lands.

But it was on the subject of Westminster losing property taxes that Brown was most adamant.

The commissioners politely disagreed with his analysis.

They said Westminster benefits from people who come to the county buildings and spend money in the city's shops, restaurants and taverns.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said that Air Business Park, which she described as unique to Westminster, was in the city because it is the county seat.

Brown disagreed, saying the commissioners were "mixing oranges, apples and watermelons."

He distributed a chart showing that the county government has 21 pieces of property in Westminster -- with a total assessed value of $10.3 million -- that could generate $85,766 in real property taxes if the properties were taxable.

In addition, he said, the county Board of Education has six buildings in the city that would generate $46,837 in real estate taxes if they were taxable.

According to Brown, the state pays Annapolis $300,000 annually to offset the costs of having so many state-owned, tax-exempt properties in the capital.

Brown argued that Westminster is carrying a "burden" that other Carroll municipalities don't have.

He cited the heavy volume of traffic in and around the county office building. City traffic engineers set up counters and discovered that on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., 780 cars enter the office building from Center Street and 2,400 cars use the other entrance off Court Street.

Brown suggested that city and county financial officials sit down and discuss the issue.

"We are not going to determine here how much money we are going to pick out of your pocket and how much generosity you are going to give us," said Brown.

The distribution of county money to fire associations was another topic on which the City Council and the county commissioners disagreed.

Councilman Kenneth Yowan, who leads the public safety committee, said Westminster is being shortchanged under the current system.

Although the city's volunteer force answered 25 percent of the emergency calls, its allocation did not reflect that fact, Yowan said.

Perhaps the sharpest exchanges came over the question of the environment.

Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein said she was worried that the commissioners were not committed to the Forestation Act, which is designed to reduce the number of trees developers cut.

Dell pointed out that since 1960, the forested areas of the county have increased from 17 percent to more than 25 percent.

"I am not going to lose any sleep over losing trees in Carroll County," he said.

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