The effective elimination of Frederick County’s amusement tax will mean smaller local government as officials leave vacant jobs unfilled to cover the drop in revenue.
The Frederick County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to reduce the county’s admissions and amusement tax from 5 percent to zero, meaning an estimated $774,000 decrease in revenue for the fiscal year 2014 budget.
Commissioner David Gray (R) opposed the measure.
The move essentially eliminates the tax on entertainment such as movies, golf-cart rentals, driving ranges, golf greens fees and miniature golf.
The cut will go into effect on Feb. 1 because the county needs to give the Maryland Comptroller’s Office at least 60 days’ notice of the change. County staff members recommended leaving at least 90 days from the date of the public hearing, according to a memorandum on the issue.
The admissions and amusement tax was enacted in 1936 to help pay for the state’s welfare programs during the Great Depression. In 1971, it was changed from a state revenue source to one for local jurisdictions.
Although the amusement tax wasn’t dedicated to cover any specific expenditures, it provided money for the county’s general fund, including spending for public works, public safety and noncounty agencies, said Erin White, the county’s acting director of finance.
Members of the budget office have met with officials from county departments that have vacant positions, and found enough openings that can be left unfilled to cover almost all of the loss in revenue, White said.
Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young has expressed a desire to get the county’s workforce under 2,000 employees by the time he leaves office in 2014 from the current number of about 2,100.
The method of counting vacancies to balance the loss of revenue drew criticism from Gray.
“I think that’s phony,” Gray said, arguing that eliminating nearly three-quarters of a million dollars would increase the burden on county taxpayers. “You were making the vacancies anyway.”
That drew a sharp response from Young, who has often been critical of budgeting techniques by past boards, several of which Gray has served on.
He and Gray have clashed repeatedly since the present board took office in 2010.
“You should talk about phony,” Young said. “Don’t even start that with ... vacancies after what you all did on the last board.”
Commissioner Kirby Delauter (R) said he originally brought up the subject because he thought the tax was unnecessary.
“I asked the question of the finance department: why are we taxing golf carts, why are we taxing greens fees, putt-putt golf and movie theaters and everything else. And the answer I got was, ‘Because we can,’” Delauter said.
The county doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem, he said.
“We’ve got a problem on how we spend money, and where we spend money,” Delauter said. “Once we have those kinds of things under control, and we can focus on the core government, I have no problem then with raising taxes if we have to meet that. But right now we don’t have to.”