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City council kills deepest tax cut proposal a more modest plan still on table


The Annapolis city council killed a bill last night that would have lowered local property taxes far below this year's rate and would have granted an even bigger tax break than one proposed by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.

"The bill is dead," Mr. Hopkins said after using a rare procedural tactic to stop the rival tax cut plan offered by Alderman Wayne C. Turner, R-Ward 6. The Democratic mayor had the measure defeated within seconds.

Mr. Turner called the move an "arrogant" gesture by a tax-happy council.

"This truly shows the City Council to be extremely liberal with spending taxpayers' money," Mr. Turner said after the meeting.

Last week, when Mr. Hopkins unveiled his $39.65 million operating budget for next year, he proposed a 4-cent cut in the property tax rate. He called the cut a gift to taxpayers whose property tax rates increased last year. Mr. Turner last night one-upped Mr. Hopkins by proposing a 10-cent cut.

The current tax rate is $1.78 per $100 of assessed value, up from $1.71 in 1994. Mr. Hopkins proposes lowering the rate to $1.74, while Mr. Turner wants it lowered to $1.68.

For the average home assessed at $150,000, the taxpayer currently pays $1,068 a year in city property taxes. Mr. Turner's plan would have had such taxpayers paying $1,008, while the mayor's proposal would cost them $1,044.

Usually, after a bill is introduced in the council, it is sent to committee. But last night, an angry Mr. Hopkins moved for an immediate vote, and the bill was defeated by a 5-3 vote. Mr. Turner and Aldermen M. Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, and Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, voted for the bill.

"This is the first time I've ever seen the mayor defeat a measure on first reader," Mr. Turner said after his bill failed.

Mr. Turner said he doubted his tax cut plan will get a second chance given the council's control of the budget process. "They know once the budget is done, it's impossible to get back and renegotiate this," he said.

Mr. Hopkins argued that he wasn't trying to muffle the opposition. But he said his budget deserves a full review before rival legislation is introduced.

"You can't take any budgetary action until you've had a hearing," Mr. Hopkins said. "He can't propose a 10-cent decrease when he hasn't even seen my plan. That's just not a business-like way to go about it."

City finance director William Tyler has said it is unlikely homeowners will see a decrease in their tax bill under Mr. Hopkins' plan because property values have increased. But he also noted that any penny shaved off the tax rate represents $95,000 in lost revenue for the city.

Mr. Turner argues that the city can afford to give taxpayers a bigger break by giving back half the city's unanticipated $2 million surplus. Mr. Hopkins contends that money is needed to pay for capital projects.

The full council will consider the budget proposal in May and must approve the plan before June 30.

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