Homeowners will have some extra money in their pockets after the Frederick County Board of Commissioners voted today to approve a $100 tax credit for 67,000 residential property owners in the county, despite criticism from some that the money could be put to better use.
Commissioners’ President Blaine Young (R) and commissioners Billy Shreve (R) and Kirby Delauter (R) voted to approve the measure. Commissioner David P. Gray (R) voted against the credit, while Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R) abstained.
The $6.7 million to fund the credit was rolled over from the county’s fiscal 2011 budget. Reducing the county’s property tax rate would have budget implications beyond the current fiscal year because of uncertainty about revenues or expenses that will come to the county from state or federal governments, according to a county report.
Giving checks directly to homeowners was preferred so that homeowners would see an immediate benefit from the credit, the report said.
The credit will be distributed to about 67,000 properties, but it was unclear Thursday when the checks would be sent out.
It will cost the county an estimated $49,185 to print and mail the checks — one of the points raised by opponents of the plan who attended a public hearing on the issue before the commissioners voted on it.
Mailing the checks seems to be a waste of money, when they could just as easily be credited to people’s tax bills, said Tom Wheatley of Jefferson.
Wheatley said he would have rather seen the money put in the bank in case of a drop in property assessments next year.
The money should go toward county nonprofit organizations, funding for many of which was cut in the county’s current budget, said Jacqueline Messner of Frederick.
Although homeowners will be grateful for the $100, the money could have been spent in another way, she said.
Ann Palmer of Frederick worried that checks signed by Young, who is exploring a run for governor in 2014, would send the wrong message.
“One hundred dollars coming back from you, signed from a potential political candidate, is just like saying, ‘Here’s my sign in my yard, and it’s got $100 on it.’ Hopefully, everyone will think of that on Election Day.”
Young responded that county checks have always been signed by the president and vice president of the board. Any commissioner who wants to can also sign the letter that will be sent with the check.
He listed the numerous campaign promises he made when running for commissioner, from vowing not to raise property taxes to cutting government spending and waste, and doing everything he could to give money back to taxpayers.
“This isn’t grandstanding. This is called keeping your word....This board is doing exactly what it said it would do.”
Gray said he voted against the measure for several reasons, including the $49,185 cost of sending out the checks when the amount could have just been simply subtracted from homeowners’ tax bills.
Gray also said he didn’t think all of the possible long-term implications of the move had been fully discussed.
“In my mind, the whole idea did not get discussed and analyzed,” he said.
He also objected to handing out $100 checks at the same time the county has cut funds for human services and nonprofit organizations.
Smith abstained after getting caught in the middle of the debate over how much the county should provide for nonprofit organizations in the most recent budget.
Smith had proposed adding $113,000 to the budget for 10 organizations, ranging from adult day care to domestic violence services and the Frederick Arts Council.
He said he abstained from Thursday’s vote because he agreed with the idea of the credit in principle, but didn’t want to rehash the debate over money for nonprofits.
“We need to move on,” he said.