Delegation derails transfer-tax measure


Carroll County's legislative delegation voted yesterday against supporting the county commissioners' effort to enact a transfer tax on real estate sales. The all-Republican delegation voted 4 to 3 against the proposal, which the commissioners said would have increased revenue by about $7.5 million next year.

State Sen. David R. Brinkley and Dels. Susan W. Krebs and Donald B. Elliott voted for the tax that commissioners said would have been dedicated to paying for road repairs and school construction.

"With all the revenues coming in and the testimony on this issue, there is no real need," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, delegation leader and the owner of a Westminster real estate business.

Proponents of the 1 percent tax, which would have been levied at the settlement of a property, had tried several amendments, "but nothing made it palatable," Haines said.

The delegation agreed to support the commissioners' other proposals, including a tax credit for seniors and a hotel tax to boost county tourism, Haines said. The General Assembly traditionally passes local bills that have the support of the regional delegation.

More than 150 people attended a hearing Saturday on the legislative proposals. The comments on the transfer tax were almost evenly split.

"Regardless of how this broke down, the hearing was encouraging," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday. "People finally get it. They understand what this proposal is about. It is a small victory for us and what we are trying to do."

Several opponents said the proposal would have unduly burdened homebuyers. They argued a tax should have a broader base.

"If there is a need for more revenues, it should be an excise tax on new construction," Haines said. "Growth should pay for growth. This would have applied to everything, retirees and anybody moving within the county."

Minnich said calls, e-mails and the hearing showed that the proposal had "broad support across the community."

The county's unexpected $12 million budget surplus this year "gave the delegation an out," Minnich said.

"At least Brinkley, Krebs and Elliott understand what we are trying to do. Haines shows a lack of respect for the public's expectation of quality-of-life issues," Minnich said.

Frank Johnson, director of legislative services for the commissioners, said the delegation hearing yesterday in Annapolis represented "a healthy exchange of views on both sides."

"Several members spoke of too many taxes and no justification for more taxes," he said.

State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who was recently appointed to replace his late father in the Senate, said he had combed through the Carroll County budgets for the past six years and reviewed nearly 20 pages of his notes from the hearing Saturday.

Ultimately, Kittleman found the transfer tax unjustified and urged the commissioners to find another way to increase revenue, Johnson said.

Minnich said the transfer tax, defeated for the third consecutive year, would have provided the county with another tool to diversify its revenue.

"We gave it the good fight and made a good case for the kind of flexibility we need to take the pressure off the property tax," Minnich said.

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