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Lawmakers seek accord

The Baltimore Sun

The Harford County Council will propose Tuesday a slight tax decrease that is designed to ease the burden on residents facing spiraling home assessments.

Relief wouldn't come until next year, and it's small consolation to residents who have seen tax assessments double on their homes, but officials insist that the measure is a step in the right direction.

The proposal lowers the 10 percent cap on the Homestead Tax Credit by 1 percentage point starting July 2008, the beginning of the next fiscal year. The council expects to take the cap down to 8 percent by 2011.

"We have been criticized for not addressing property tax issues," council President Billy Boniface said. "We are working together on this decrease and want to take it lower. We know assessments are up. Maybe this way they won't seem so astronomical."

Boniface said he wanted to get through his first budget season as president before introducing the bill. The council approved a nearly $1 billion budget last week that held the property tax at $1.082 per $100 of assessed value.

The council expects to enact the cap reduction well ahead of the next budget season to give county administrators time to estimate the fiscal impact of the decrease, council officials said.

"We are trying to plan as far in advance as possible and give administrators a full 12 months to plan," said Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, a Havre de Grace Democrat. "We have heard over and over that the tax burden is getting to be too great for working families to live in Harford County."

With the average assessment rising at least 40 percent every three years, the Homestead Property Tax Credit, which, in jurisdictions within the metropolitan region, ranges from 2 percent to 10 percent, caps the amount of property tax an owner-occupant pays annually.

In Harford, where the cap has stayed at the maximum allowed for several years, the newly assessed taxpayer would pay no more than 110 percent or all of the last assessment and 10 percent of the new one.

"It's a ceiling that basically limits the amount of property tax you have to pay and helps with the burden," said Anne F. Gessner, an accountant for the county treasury department.

In 1990, the state legislature reset a 15 percent cap to 10 percent and allowed local governments to further reduce their limit. In Baltimore City and Baltimore County, the cap is 4 percent. The cap tempers the impact of an assessment, which increased as much as 55 percent this year in northern Harford, Republican Councilman Chad R. Shrodes' district.

"The timing is good because the administration will know it has to live within different means," Shrodes said. "Revenues will still increase because of assessments, but at least with this tax cut, we can give something back to people."

Boniface, who said he has the full support of the council, will introduce the bill at the council meeting Tuesday. A public hearing is scheduled July 10, after which the council can vote on the issue.


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