Carroll's Board of Commissioners did the right thing by raising the piggyback income tax for the next six years. The process wasn't pretty. The commissioners bent and buckled, but didn't break in the face of a fierce anti-tax contingent. Ultimately, Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell put the long-term needs of the county, specifically its burgeoning school population, ahead of short-term political gain.
To balance this year's budget and generate ample revenue to finance an ambitious school construction program, the commissioners originally proposed raising Carroll's piggyback tax to 60 percent of the state income tax from its current 50 percent rate. After listening to anti-tax harangues at public hearings and receiving a petition of 5,000 signatures in opposition to the increase, Mr. Dell seemed to have lost his resolve.
Looking at the evolution of this budget vote, it is clear that Mr. Dell was in a terrible bind. A fiscal conservative, his natural political inclination is against increasing taxes. However, when it became obvious that raising the piggyback tax was the only method to balance the budget, Mr. Dell reluctantly agreed -- with conditions. Instead of 60 percent, he wanted the level at 58 percent, to be used only for school construction or deficit reduction. When Mr. Dell discovered such general funds could not be set aside in special accounts, he agreed to only a one-year increase.
But once it became obvious that this strategy would halve the eight schools needed by 2002, Mr. Dell agreed to an increase to 58 percent for six years, two years beyond the current board's term. Carroll becomes the 10th of the state's 24 jurisdictions with a piggyback rate greater than 50 percent.
Mr. Brown, the commissioner with the best grasp of the county's fiscal picture, deserves to be commended for his persistence in restoring $41 million for school construction to the county's six-year capital budget.
The actions of the third commissioner, Richard T. Yates, were the most politically cynical. He opposed any tax increase, then hTC voted to approve the budget based on the revenues from those taxes.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Dell showed the political leadership that Carroll County sorely needs. They looked after the public's interest, which is what they were elected to do.