The Carroll County legislative delegation's hearing yesterday was to focus on eight proposed local bills, but nearly all the debate centered on one -- the transfer tax.
Almost 50 people, in a crowd of more than 100, commented on a proposed 1 percent tax that would be levied on home sales at the time they are settled. The buyer of a single-family home costing $300,000, the average price in the county, would pay a $3,000 transfer tax.
The county commissioners have asked the delegation to enact the tax, which could yield as much as $7.5 million next year. The revenue would flow to needed roads and school projects, they said.
The speakers at the three-hour hearing at the County Office Building in Westminster were split. Opponents called for more tax equity, saying the need for revenue should not fall solely on home buyers. Proponents said the funding is vital for overdue capital projects.
"What happens if the real estate market goes south?" asked Sharon Callahan, a Hampstead real estate agent. "We have to have a broad-based tax. The money has to come from everybody, not one group."
Charles Hedrick of Eldersburg said, "The transfer tax will take away from seniors. What little I have to leave my children is in my home."
But Rita Misra of Mount Airy said, "Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but there are improvements that we needed to make years ago."
Ed Horgos, an East Middle School teacher, detailed the numerous portable classrooms throughout the county and the renovations needed in many older buildings. He said he would remain neutral in the debate, but he asked legislators what they would do to increase revenue.
"You have to face facts," Horgos said. "Things have to be done."
Carroll is looking at more than $250 million in school construction projects and $100 million in overdue road upgrades, officials said.
"The real estate industry is opposed to the tax, but most others understand the needs and challenges we face," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation and the owner of a Westminster real estate business, said he remains firmly opposed. Sen. David R. Brinkley said he heard nothing new in the debate this year, the third time the commissioners have requested the tax, but that dedicating the revenue to schools and roads makes it more palatable. Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a former Howard County councilman recently appointed to his late father's seat in the legislature, promised to weigh each comment.
"I understand both sides after spending the last six years in county government and going through county budgets," Kittleman said.
Del. Donald B. Elliott asked tax opponents for their solutions to the budget crunch. Suggestions included toll roads, an extended runway at the regional airport and construction of a municipal golf course.
Several speakers criticized what they said was Carroll's poor economic development record, which has kept the industrial tax base at 12 percent, the lowest in the area.
"If you give the commissioners this tax, you will enable them to continue doing nothing for economic development," said Karen Donaldson of Westminster. "No matter how much the commissioners make off property owners, they still want more."
Tony Roman, a history teacher at North Carroll High School, countered, "The county needs a revenue stream to improve the roads that could bring economic development here."
Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll, said this Board of Commissioners has done much to improve the county's business outlook and bring high-paying jobs to the county. She praised their efforts to fund and promote the Warfield Complex in Sykesville, a $20 million project that promises as many as 1,000 jobs.
"Economic development does not happen overnight," Krebs said.
Gerald J. Ryan, a Westminster developer, said local governments without adequate utilities and access to highways will not attract businesses.
"These commissioners need revenue tools," said Ryan, who favors the tax.
The delegation will meet Tuesday to decide which bills to sponsor in the General Assembly, which traditionally approves local proposals. Without the delegation's support, the transfer tax will not be introduced.
Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. asked the delegation "to look at the long term, at what we are facing. What you decide next week will have an impact five years from now and more."