Letter to Editor: Talbot County Revenue Cap Increase will Benefit Everyone

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In a column that appeared in the March 18 Star-Democrat and the Talbot Spy, Councilmember Laura Price argues in favor of what she calls the “Price Penny Plan,” an increase of one cent in Talbot County’s current property tax rate, from 57.08Ȼ to 58.08Ȼ per $100 of assessed valuation. That’s an increase of slightly more than 1.75%, and would increase property tax revenues by about $672,112 a year.

That’s a good start. She also makes a good point about the education supplement: It benefits education alone, and no other county departments. But every department needs more money each year, and a meaningful increase in the revenue cap is needed to provide it. As I have said before, it might be tempting to think of calls for revenue cap reform as the whining of greedy teachers and school administrators. But as I’ve also said before, think again. An insufficient annual budget squeezes many county departments. An increase in property tax revenue would remind us that, as President John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide buoys all boats.” And since Ms. Price notes that, “the same services will cost more,” plenty of county departments (22 in fiscal year 2018, to be exact) could use that rising tide.

Granted, as Councilmember Price points out, education receives slightly more than half of the county’s annual budget. But every taxpayer is getting his money’s worth. For absolutely everyone has a vested interest in good public schools. Students and their parents are the most obvious stakeholders. Even those whose families are not in school have a horse in this race. In case of emergency, we all want firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical services to be there when we need them. And we want them to be adequately staffed, trained and equipped. Adequate equipment includes, for example, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks that don’t break down on the way when you’re in distress. Adequate training begins long before public servants enter the police academy, EMT training or the fire academy: when they’re students in our public schools. The same is true of auto mechanics, nurses, computer technicians, and a host of other workers on whose specialized skills we all depend every day.

Talbot County is attractive to potential new residents because ours is the lowest property tax rate in the state. But beware of false economies. Savvy home buyers also appreciate the value of good schools and other public services. The current revenue cap, if not amended, will degrade the quality of our schools and other public services, making Talbot County less appealing – and home resale values commensurately lower.

This is no time to be penny wise and pound foolish. In fiscal year 2018, the final county budget came in $3,665,925 – 4.2% — below total department requests. So while the Price Penny Plan is a step in the right direction, $672,112 won’t cut it. (The “additional $3 million” the councilmember cites is based on four years of her plan.) A bolder step is needed. The County Council must find the political courage to put a larger increase in the revenue cap on the November ballot, and especially to close the CPI-U loophole.

Pete Howell
Easton

Letters to Editor

  1. David Lloyd says:

    Excellent letter. And agree that the increase should be more. If we skimp on education, our future. — and, that of our children
    and our grandchildren will suffer greatly. And the other services need support. Would also rather raise the taxes on those of us fortunate enough to live here than to promote too much economic development to make up the difference.

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