Westminster Common Council members voted three to one last night for the introduction of a proposed city budget that would increase the city property tax by 6 cents -- primarily to pay for road improvements.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, and the council is to vote on a budget May 12.

The lone negative vote came from Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who was out of town two weeks ago when a work session on the budget was belatedly scheduled. At that session, a consensus arose that road projects should not be delayed -- as they were last year -- because costs were rising and residents were asking that the work be done.

"I'm going to vote against this tax increase," Chapin vowed, after reading a statement objecting to the scheduling of the work session and saying the road work, perhaps, could be accomplished without an increase.

Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the finance committee, outlined the proposed budget for the 1997-1998 fiscal year that begins July 1. The proposed increase would raise the property tax rate from from 83 cents to 89 cents per $100 of assessed value.

"We have the need, in my view, to increase the city's revenues," Pecoraro said. "It's because we are a growing and vibrant community that we need to do this, and it's our responsibility to do it when it's necessary."

Almost all of the proposed increase is designated for road improvements, such as Uniontown Road, Englar Road, Carroll Street and John Street. Westminster's road-improvement proposals were cut last year from more than $300,000 to less than $125,000, and the same size cut would have been required again this year to maintain the tax rate.

"The roads are extremely important," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who has no vote. "If we put it off four or five years, the cost will be significantly above where we are now. A modest increase now for fixing roads is going to increase property values."

Yowan and other city officials said they had discussed but decided against an increase last year, because the Carroll County property tax was raised by 27 cents.

All but a penny of the increase would be earmarked for roads, with the remaining cent needed to meet the city's $100,000 pledge for construction of a new Fire Department headquarters, to be paid over the next three years.

Councilman Damian L. Halstad emphasized that the tax increase is only a proposal. But he said: "The city finance department and the finance committee seem to strongly recommend it -- and I don't take that lightly.

"It's something to be haggled about, discussed and, ultimately, decided."

Each cent on the tax rate generates about $33,400, Pecoraro said, so a 6-cent increase would produce the necessary income.

The city also wants to time its road work to coincide with state projects such as West Main Street improvements and with underground utility work, noted Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works.

Residents have called City Hall to ask for these improvements, but there had been little citizen reaction -- one call and one fax -- since the news of the possible tax increase was reported two weeks ago, Yowan said yesterday.

Westminster's current operating budget is about $6.4 million, with another $6 million spent on water and sewer. The proposed operating budget totals about $7 million, with no change in the water and sewer rates.

The property tax increase for the average house would be from $24 to $36, city officials said. City residents also pay the county's property tax, $2.62 per $100 of assessed value.

The council in 1991 lowered the city tax rate from 91 cents to 83 cents, Yowan said. But since then, the city's property tax revenue has flattened as construction slowed, while assessments were reduced or unchanged.

The budget vote on May 12 falls on the same day as the city's election, in which the mayor and Councilmen Halstad and Edward S. Calwell are running unopposed.

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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