Lawmakers to take aim at state taxes

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/27/2013
State lawmakers from Frederick County are laying the groundwork for an all-out attack on taxes during the 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly. Sen. David Brinkley is looking to reduce the corporate income tax rate and adjust the Maryland estate tax. Delegate Michael Hough wants to require a supermajority vote for any tax increases. And Delegate Kathy Afzali is looking to ease the estate tax burden on family businesses. Several of these proposals have fizzled in past legislative sessions, but Brinkley, R-District 4, said bringing them back will continue the discussion about tax relief. “At least they can be conversation starters,” he said. The process of crafting legislation for the year is already underway. Earlier this month, state senators and delegates had to decide if they wanted to draft any bills to be pre-filed before the Jan. 8 start of session.

Monrovia residents say impact fee elimination would be developer boon

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/17/2013
Critics of a 1,510-home project in Monrovia are asking whether talk of changing county growth policies will lead to letting developers off the hook for millions in school construction fees. The proposed Monrovia Town Center is projected to add 840 students to surrounding schools, and county law requires the developer to put up an estimated $20.6 million in impact fees to expand classroom space for the newcomers. Opponents of the Town Center project say the impact fees will fall far short of paying for even one new school. However, they also worry that if county officials eliminate impact fees, this developer contribution for schools will drop to zero. "Instead, the costs will be borne by county residents," Steve McKay, a Monrovia resident, testified at a recent public hearing. County officials and community stakeholders are set to start brainstorming next week on the best ways to deal with growth in the county. The group has formed amid discussion of eliminating the county's impact fees and replacing them with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold.

Afzali turns down alternate seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/17/2013
Maryland Delegate Kathy Afzali on Friday rejected an invitation to serve as an alternate member on the county task force discussing local growth issues. She had previously volunteered to join the work group, but Sen. David Brinkley asked Delegate Galen Clagett to take a seat on the panel instead. Brinkley questioned Afzali's impartiality on the issue of creating a transfer tax, an idea she has said she opposes. Clagett, D-District 3A, is unable to attend Tuesday's kickoff meeting of the task force, so Brinkley on Friday sent Afzali an email asking her to represent the Frederick County legislative delegation for that day. But for Afzali, R-4A, serving as an alternate wasn't going to cut it. However, she said she will attend all task force meetings as a member of the audience. "Delegate Clagett doesn't have the time to devote to this very important topic," Afzali said. "I do have the time because I will be there. So maybe it's just time to appoint me the representative on the task force for the delegation."

Unbalanced task force

Frederick News Post
Steve McKay
11/17/2013
Since Commissioners President Blaine Young announced his intent to rid the county of the dreaded impact fees, I have been trying to pay close attention to this subject. After all, those dreaded impact fees are an important source of funds to mitigate all of the massive infrastructure challenges being created by the county’s drive to develop, particularly here in south county. So it was with some concern that I read The News-Post’s article of Nov. 12 headlined “Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force.” In all my efforts fighting against the Monrovia development, I can count on one hand the politicians that have raised their voices in our support, and Delegate Kathy Afzali is one of them. She has been a vocal supporter in our fight against Monrovia Town Center, and against excessive growth in this part of the county. She and Delegate Michael Hough came out to our meeting in Urbana, and we had a very constructive exchange. She even stood up and testified against the development at the planning commission hearing. She is doing her job and representing her constituents — us! So I was dismayed at Sen. David Brinkley’s comments in the paper that day. First, I found the comments very unprofessional, considering that he was speaking about a fellow legislator from the same district and party. Beyond that, however, I was dismayed that he would choose Delegate Galen Clagett, someone so clearly aligned with the development community, to participate on this task force, which is already so clearly biased toward the developers. Make no mistake, this task force is going to recommend ways to make the developers pay less for the impacts that new developments have on our roads and schools. Who will make up the difference? You and me, the taxpayers. Blaine Young wants to abolish the impact fee. For Monrovia Town Center, that represents 60 percent of their contribution toward new schools. When the impact fee is gone, under the terms of the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement they have proposed, the developer will be completely off the hook for over $20 million! Under cross-examination at the third of four days of planning commission hearings on Monrovia Town Center, the applicant’s attorney, Rand Weinberg, confirmed as much.

Underrepresented on growth

Frederick News Post
11/16/2013
The growth task force, recently formed by the Board of County Commissioners to investigate ways for development to pay for its impact on our schools, roads, water and sewer supplies, and other infrastructure, lacks a broad enough membership to deliver a comprehensive and fair solution. Groups represented include the Frederick County Association of Realtors, Frederick County Building Industry Association, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, a municipality, and the senior, education and library communities. Elected officials from Frederick County’s delegation of state delegates and senators will also serve — it was the choice of precisely who from that delegation would join the task force that caused some contention earlier this week. Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican who represents northern Frederick County, was rejected as a participant by a fellow Republican, Sen. David Brinkley. Brinkley instead selected Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat, and delegates Patrick Hogan (R) and Galen Clagett (D). While we understand the argument that Young, Hogan and Clagett represent districts that include the city of Frederick, an area naturally suited for more growth, we also understand Afzali’s position that she represents Monrovia, an area in which the debate over development is current and controversial. “Afzali is about Afzali and not a solution to the problem,” Brinkley told reporter Bethany Rodgers. Yes, Afzali has an annoying tendency to want to grab headlines, but she makes a good point about the task force’s composition: It has a clear bias toward developers, builders and real estate agents. While we understand that those representatives are some of the key industries affected by either a transfer tax on the sale of existing homes or an impact tax on the sale of new ones, what the group lacks is representation from county residents — the taxpayers — who also have skin in the game.

Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11122013
A state delegate who raised her hand to join a Frederick County growth task force was passed over for appointment after a fellow legislator questioned how “fair and open” she would be on the panel. Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4A, argued she would bring a much-needed perspective to the growth group because her constituents in the eastern areas of the county are among those most affected by local growth issues. In a Nov. 4 letter, she asked Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, to put her on the county-led task force. In response, Brinkley challenged Afzali’s impartiality on the question of creating a transfer tax to fund infrastructure improvements. In a Monday phone interview, he attributed Afzali’s interest in the work group to a desire for publicity. “Afzali is about Afzali and not a solution to the problem,” Brinkley said. Despite Afzali’s request for the task force assignment, Brinkley offered the opening to Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, and Delegate Patrick Hogan, R-District 3A, before finally naming Delegate Galen Clagett to the work group. Afzali said her goal is to represent district residents who have concerns about development in the county. Controversial development projects such as the Monrovia Town Center heavily affect her constituents, she noted. Clagett, D-District 3A, represents the city of Frederick, where building does not generate as much opposition, she said. “I’m the one who’s fielding the calls from irate citizens who are going to have the traffic jams and the noise and the safety issues from this kind of growth,” she said.

Frederick County work group to discuss impact fees, new transfer tax

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/05/2013
The unanimous decision followed discussion about eliminating the county’s impact fee and replacing it with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold. The Maryland General Assembly would have to authorize the change, so recent efforts to swap the fee with a tax fizzled without support from a majority of Frederick County’s legislators. Delegate Kathy Afzali said creating a new tax on home sales would further depress the county’s housing market. “We’re hungry for buyers,” said Afzali, R-District 4A, who has worked in real estate. “If anything, we should try to figure out how to cut costs for buyers.” But Commissioners President Blaine Young said it’s not fair to rely only on new construction to drum up funds for infrastructure improvements. Developers pay impact fees of $15,185 for each single-family detached house, $13,089 for townhouses or duplexes, and $2,845 for other residential units. The costs are typically rolled into the cost of a new home and passed on to the buyer. The fees, which brought Frederick County almost $7.2 million in fiscal 2013, are intended to fund construction of additional library and school space to serve the new communities.

Jan Gardner on her board's budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.

Jan Gardner on her board’s budget achievements

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
09/26/2013
Citizens deserve the facts. A recent letter to the editor by the Young Board of County Commissioners (absent Commissioner David Gray) provided inaccurate information about the county budget. The Gardner board managed the county budget responsibly, controlled spending and earned the first AAA bond rating for Frederick County. By contrast, the Young board has increased spending, raised taxes and redirected significant taxpayer dollars to subsidize new development projects while cutting services to the community’s neediest residents. These are the facts: Fact: Over the four years of the Gardner board, the budget grew from $436.7 million to $438.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million. Over only the first three years of the Young board, the budget grew from $438.3 million to $516.3 million, an increase of $78 million. If the fire tax budgets are separated out, over three years, the Young board increased the budget from $438.3 million to $474.1 million, an increase of $35.8 million. Fact: The Young board raised taxes when the fire tax districts were shifted into the operating budget.

Facts on county budget, please

Frederick News Post
Bob White
08/04/2013
Enough misdirection is enough! Citizens deserve facts about the county budget, not hazy self-serving propaganda. ... The Young board has cut over 200 fees and taxes — primarily to benefit of the development and building industry. Most county taxpayers will not experience a benefit from these fee reductions. In many instances, there are still county costs to cover development review and inspection of projects. These costs have been shifted to the backs of county taxpayers. This means the taxpayer is now paying for the cost of permits and inspection for development projects that previously have been covered by user fees. The public deserves facts, not fiction about the budget and taxes. Look at your recently mailed property tax bill. Look at the annual county budget summaries. Spending and your tax bills have gone up! I guess this is the Young board just doing what it promised!

Commissioners solidify changes to fire and rescue funding

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/21/2013
County commissioners Thursday took the final steps to abolish the two-tier fire tax system that has funded local emergency services since 2001. Officials passed a county operating budget earlier this month that eliminates the fire tax and funds the rescue system primarily through property taxes, essentially spreading the cost of emergency services evenly across all taxpayers. Commissioners made the changes permanent Thursday by zeroing out the fire tax, which was levied at a higher rate in urban districts and at a lower rate in suburban districts. While four of the board members supported the action, Commissioner David Gray opposed it. Gray said the package of changes to the fire system hadn’t been thoroughly vetted.

‘Coalitions’ an ineffective way to spend taxpayer money

Frederick News Post
06/17/2013
t's hard not to see the $25,000 the Frederick County Commissioners have allocated to a coalition of rural counties to resist the so-called, state imposed "rain tax" as a waste of money. It's understandable the county board is agog at the total cost to Frederick County for its part in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay -- a staggering $1.88 billion by 2025. But in light of how tight the commissioners have repeatedly protested the budget is -- the maintenance of effort allocation to schools, the cuts and gradual attrition to zero of grants to emergency need nonprofits, the aggressive push to sell Citizens and Montevue because of the money it will free up -- the $25,000 to pursue a purely political lobbying effort is a questionable investment.

'Coalitions' an ineffective way to spend taxpayer money

Frederick News Post
06/17/2013
t's hard not to see the $25,000 the Frederick County Commissioners have allocated to a coalition of rural counties to resist the so-called, state imposed "rain tax" as a waste of money. It's understandable the county board is agog at the total cost to Frederick County for its part in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay -- a staggering $1.88 billion by 2025. But in light of how tight the commissioners have repeatedly protested the budget is -- the maintenance of effort allocation to schools, the cuts and gradual attrition to zero of grants to emergency need nonprofits, the aggressive push to sell Citizens and Montevue because of the money it will free up -- the $25,000 to pursue a purely political lobbying effort is a questionable investment.

County board approves $516.3M operating budget

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/07/2013
Four Frederick County commissioners voted to pass the operating budget for fiscal 2014, which will begin July 1. The new budget is roughly $45 million larger than last year's, primarily because it includes about $40 million in emergency services costs that previously were in a separate fund.

County needs ‘rain tax’ Plan B

Frederick News Post
06/07/2013
In any case, this is not the end of the debate. Lawmakers failed at the end of this year’s session to modify the tax and said it’ll be back in 2014. But don’t expect it to be friendlier to taxpayers on the whole — delegates and senators don’t seem as worried about individual constituents as they do about large businesses and nonprofits (e.g., churches). While the state has largely left it up to each jurisdiction to craft the fee structure as they see fit, there’s nothing to prevent state lawmakers from imposing this tax on the county, especially if egged on by the environmental lobby, which has the state’s Democratic majority by the, ahem, ear.The commissioners have set us up for a David vs. Goliath showdown, only it’s less likely we’ll get off that one, lucky shot. Trusting the Maryland General Assembly for a solution is a bad gamble.

County needs 'rain tax' Plan B

Frederick News Post
06/07/2013
In any case, this is not the end of the debate. Lawmakers failed at the end of this year’s session to modify the tax and said it’ll be back in 2014. But don’t expect it to be friendlier to taxpayers on the whole — delegates and senators don’t seem as worried about individual constituents as they do about large businesses and nonprofits (e.g., churches). While the state has largely left it up to each jurisdiction to craft the fee structure as they see fit, there’s nothing to prevent state lawmakers from imposing this tax on the county, especially if egged on by the environmental lobby, which has the state’s Democratic majority by the, ahem, ear.The commissioners have set us up for a David vs. Goliath showdown, only it’s less likely we’ll get off that one, lucky shot. Trusting the Maryland General Assembly for a solution is a bad gamble.

‘Rain tax’ falls all over the place: Stormwater fees uneven, from a penny to thousands

MarylandReporter.com
Christopher Goins
06/05/2013
The state’s 10 most populated counties are required by law to implement a stormwater utility fee by July 1. The revenue will be used to fund their respective watershed protection and restoration programs, designed to prevent pollutants from entering the Chesapeake Bay. Seven jurisdictions have set a fee, but three others are still in the process of setting fees or getting local approval. The bill requiring the tax, HB 987, passed in 2012, left it up to counties to set the fees themselves.

Commissioners set 1-cent rain tax

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
05/31/2013
County commissioners Thursday decided to start charging eligible properties an annual fee of one penny, enough to net the county a grand total of $487.81 each year, according to staff estimates. For county leaders, though, the goal is not to drum up funds but to do the bare minimum to comply with a state mandate. Legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 requires 10 jurisdictions, including Frederick County, to craft a stormwater remediation fee by July 1, 2013. The law gave local leaders freedom to design the fee, known by its critics as a “rain tax,” but stipulated that proceeds should pay for watershed restoration and preservation.

Frederick County levies 1-cent storm-water fee

Local officials protest state-mandated pollution control law
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
05/31/2013
Unhappy over a state law requiring property owners to pay a new fee to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Frederick County officials have decided to set the charge at just a penny a year. The county's board of commissioners approved the 1-cent storm-water pollution control fee on Thursday, declaring they were doing even that only to avoid possible state restrictions on new development in the county if they didn't act.

Frederick County sets property tax

With fire tax rolled into general fund, overall rate increases
Gazette
Ryan Marshall
05/09/2013
The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county’s $516 million proposed budget for fiscal 2014 on June 6. The new property tax rate of $1.064 per $100 of assessed value is an increase from the fiscal 2013 rate of $0.936. The commissioners approved the new rate by a vote of 4-1.