While tax relief may be just a budget cycle away for some, cutting property taxes is easier said than done, especially for Maryland’s 157 cities and towns. What can get lost in the conversation is that the cost of providing community services (such as police, road maintenance, parks and recreation, and trash collection) continues to increase exponentially, and municipalities have fewer options than state and county lawmakers to find new revenue streams to support these critical programs (”Put lower property tax rates on the local government agenda in Maryland,” Jan. 9).
In fact, city and town governments in Maryland do not have authority to create new taxes on their own. About 50% of the average municipal general fund is comprised of property tax revenue and the vast majority of other funding comes from sources outside the control of cities and towns such as government grants and what amounts to a small percentage of income tax collected.
The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board cites the nation’s uncertain economic circumstances as another reason to provide a tax cut, but making structural cuts is historically the wrong approach in this circumstance. Municipal leaders need to think beyond just this year’s obligations. Saving in advance of a possible economic downturn is an aspect of good government. We agree with the Sun’s pitch for the General Assembly to “[make] sure local aid levels remain sufficient to afford local tax cuts.”
But let us be clear: Maryland’s cities and towns need new and expanded sources of revenue to meet the diverse needs of their residents, whether that is providing a local sales tax option on the legalized cannabis market, fully funding road repairs which are intended to be paid for by the gas tax, or other investments in our municipalities.
— Denise Mitchell, College Park
The writer is mayor pro tem of College Park and president of the board of directors of the Maryland Municipal League.
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