- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A smattering of people turned out Tuesday night to ask for lower county property taxes. About a half-dozen others applauded the four speakers but did not address the Charles County commissioners during an evening public hearing.
The commissioners are considering leaving the real property tax rate at $1.0665 per $100 of assessed value, the rate charged this fiscal year, according to documents.
Because of declining assessments, the county would expect property tax revenues to fall about 4.5 percent, or $7,161,109, in fiscal 2013 as a result.
Alternatively, to make about the same in taxes next year as this year, the county could raise the tax rate to $1.1171 per $100, called the “constant yield” rate because it is projected to keep revenue constant.
In general, speakers were unsympathetic to arguments that property taxes fund essential services or that county employees deserve raises. A representative from the county teachers union also spoke.
Stress from taxes made Richard Cantilena of Welcome go bald, he joked.
Once, “I had hair like Mr. Robinson there. Nice curly hair, and look at me today. That’s why I’m here today, trying to get my hair back,” Cantilena said.
He was “completely and irrevocably against” any tax increase. Private sector workers have been getting by without regular raises and county employees should do the same, he said.
“Let me tell you this: Many of us in the private sector haven’t had a raise in three years. In fact, some of us don’t have a job. It’s called downsizing. … While public employees have jobs, some of us don’t, so how sympathetic do you want me to be to people who are still working?” he asked.
He also questioned education spending, saying he shouldn’t be taxed to support Charles County Public Schools because his children are grown.
“My children already went to school. Why do I have to pay for it?” he asked.
Noah Weinberger also asked the commissioners to resist what he considered exorbitant requests from the Charles County Board of Education, as well as to slow growth to reduce the need for costly infrastructure.
“I’m just here because I’m fed up. I’ve lived in this county for 40 years. I came here because I got more house for the dollar and low property taxes compared to the rest of the area. Since Charles County has been expanding, I can’t say there’s a low property tax, but we do have higher expenses,” Weinberger said. “We citizens cannot keep paying this. It’s ridiculous. Every government body seems to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to provide this, this and this, and you’re going to pay for it whether you want to or not.’ We don’t want to.”
Meg McDonald, a representative of the county teachers union, urged the commissioners to keep high funding for the school system. She didn’t make a specific statement about the tax rate, but “we want to keep programs that benefit our children immensely,” she said, including college-prep classes, science and technology courses and the planned St. Charles High School in Waldorf.
Other speakers made points similar to Cantilena’s.
“We are keenly aware of the fact that we are going to have to look at this budget with careful scrutiny to figure out where cuts can be made,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said during the hearing.
“Start by looking at what was spent last year and start reducing that,” Richard Petrocci of Waldorf advised. He questioned a statement by Kelly that taxes are necessary to fund vital public services, saying the budget could be cut in other places.
“I hear that and unfortunately that’s the answer we always get: We don’t want to cut the fire department, we don’t want to cut teachers and we don’t want to cut the police,” he said. So cut somewhere else, he continued.
Indian Head resident Elmer Biles struck a more conciliatory tone but expressed concern about the way properties are assessed, saying his successful appeals make him wonder about the process. Kelly said she would relay his concerns to the county’s legislative delegation because Maryland’s state government assesses property.
“The fiscal situation is getting rather frightening. We need to look at all the angles there is,” Biles said.