Op-Ed: Why We Need to Pass the Revenue Cap Ballot Question by Laura Price 

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On March 18th, my guest comment on why we need to have the voters pass a change to our revenue cap was published. I explained the history and problems of the tax cap and was very explicit about the items that needed to be funded that we cannot cover in our current revenues. Capital Projects and Public Safety.

The first capital project is the new Easton Elementary School. The county share of is $30 million dollars at an annual cost of $2.5 million per year for 20 years. There is no revenue source to pay for this. The second project is the relocation of the Sheriff’s department as they are currently housed temporarily at the old Black and Decker building. This will cost approximately $10-$15 million, estimating an annual payment of $1 million per year. There is no revenue source to pay for this. The third project is our Health department, which was identified about 10 years ago as being inadequate and needing to be replaced. Estimated project cost is about $8 million for an annual payment of $750,000 per year. There is no revenue source to pay for this. We also need to keep in mind the capital cost to build a sewer line to the new hospital when it gets built, hopefully in the next 5 years. The total of our major capital costs is about $4 million per year!

Keeping up with the costs of Public Safety and Emergency Services is the other major component in needing to find additional funds in the budget. As I stated in my March Guest Comment…

“As we have all seen recently, we must have a fully staffed and well equipped Sheriff’s Department to protect us. We need to have a more competitive salary scale because we are losing our most valuable and trained deputies to surrounding counties for better pay. The same thing is happening in our emergency services department. Our Paramedics and EMTs, who face intensive calls every day, are also lured away to nearby counties. With Talbot having the highest percentage of retirees of any county in the state, it is critical for us to continue this as our #1 priority. The request in this upcoming budget is approximately an additional $1 million and over the past decade, we have increased funding 60%; this need will continue to grow and outpace other county services.”

Adding approximately $2 million to those budgets would go a very long way toward retaining our employees and enhancing the services.

Trying to formulate a solution, I proposed the concept of the Penny Plan. It would do two things. Eliminate CPI-U and keep the cap at 2% and for the first 4 years,and add an additional “penny” to your property tax bill. The penny increase will cost the average homeowner ($350,000 value of home) an additional $35 per year for a total of $140 after 4 years. This is similar to the way we have funded additional educational costs by adding a certain number of “pennies” as an education supplement (MOE Law 2012 for tax capped counties) to cover the Board of Educations’ increased budget over the past 6 years.

By adding one cent per $100 of assessed value to the property tax bill and going to 2%, it would generate an additional $6 million dollars after 4 years. This is the exact amount I felt was needed. I worked closely with our finance director to make sure this was accurate and would satisfy our most pressing needs.

Subsequently, we had input from the Taxpayers Association and on May 21 they commented on the 2019 budget and the suggestion by some on the council to move capital funds, a measure I strongly opposed.

We strongly disapprove of the position some of you are taking to take the additional money for school operations out of the capital budget. To us, this appears that you are trying to hide the cost of this decision. Further, doing things this way increases interest costs, meaning more taxes in the future. Be honest and raise the taxes if you want to add money to the school budget.

We cannot support an increase in the tax cap to more than 2½% long-term. If you choose a higher long-term rate, we will strongly oppose that. We are open to discussing the amount of a short-term increase greater than that. (Talbot County Taxpayers Association – Ted Doyle, President)

With this input and support on the tax plan, I was willing to edit my original idea and bump up slightly, the long term tax rate by ½%. This did not change the overall concept of the proposal.

On June 12, the day of Introduction, the Taxpayers Association referred to their suggestion of a 2.5% cap, but to allow it to be raised to 3.5% for 3 years. They then stated they were agreeable to the plan I had proposed.

For these reasons, it is important that any increase in the long-term revenue cap be kept modest. We believe a 2 ½% cap, coupled with the ability to fund school operating cost increases through the supplement, will provide the County with adequate property tax revenue. We would not support, and may oppose, anything more than this.

We recognize that there is a pent-up capital need. To cover this, we will support a 3 to 4-year rate higher than the 2 ½%. We have suggested a 3 ½% rate, but the “1 penny” proposal by Ms. Price, or its percentage equivalent, is acceptable to us.(Talbot County Taxpayers Association – Ted Doyle, President)

On July 9th, we received from the Taxpayers Association email testimony:

∙ We have previously indicated that we can support an increase of the tax cap to 2 ½%. We also could support a short-term bump up on top of that. So, we will be able to support Resolution 262 (modified to eliminate the confusing table).
∙ As to Resolution 263, we think this may be pushing things a bit too far. If you decide this is the one you will put on the ballot, we will have to give this a lot of consideration and decide whether we would remain neutral or oppose it. For the reasons discussed above it is unlikely that we would support this increase.

The temporary increase of 1 penny per year for 4 years and the slight increase in the cap from 2 to 2.5% and eliminating CPI-U, is necessary, but it is critical that these additional funds are spent only for what has been identified and not shifted.

Recognizing there is never a good time to raise taxes, this increase is essential to maintain critical services and to fund the interest on capital projects. I urge voters to support the ballot initiative.

I hope that I have earned the credibility to gain the support from you, the citizens, to vote FOR ballot question A.

Laura Price is a member of the Talbot County Council.

Letters to Editor

  1. For those of us who think our real estate taxes are high, please compare your taxes to comparable taxes outside the county. We all hate to pay taxes. We all have to pay our share. We are, in my opinion, not paying anything like an exorbitant tax burden. We can afford this slight increase and probably more.

    I believe in public schools and safety. Do you?

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