Never Give A Sucker An Even Break
Watching the county commissioners last week was painful. No one wanted to step to the plate - at first. Then the floodgates opened and we taxpayers are now faced with increased taxation.
Al Imhoff pointed out on these pages two weeks ago that the county's budget had increased more than 91 percent over the past 10 years, while total population and housing units only went up 26 percent; while school enrollment increased by less than 25 percent.
Even if you factor in inflation at about 30 percent over that decade, the county expenditures rose by more than 60 percent. There is only one word for that - OUTRAGEOUS!
And while our commissioners were debating the efficacy of raising both the property tax and the suburban fire tax rates, there was no mention of the fact that William Donald Schaefer, Maryland comptroller, announce four days earlier that income tax revenues being paid to the state for 2004 were substantially higher than previous estimates - more than $250 million higher.
What this means is that sometime next month the county financial wizards will march into the commissioners' worksession and tell them the county is going to get between $10 and $20 million more in income tax revenues than expected.
And what will the commissioners do at that point, seeing that the budget for the next fiscal year will have been adopted already?
You guessed it! They'll squirrel it away, saying they will allocate it next year for the 2007 budget cycle. And if you are keeping up with the world of politics, you will realize that will be an election year budget and thus the commissioners will be able to "give" us some of our money back. Their thinking is that the taxpayers are too stupid to realize that they are attempting to buy their votes with their (the taxpayers) own money.
We have arrived at a sad state of affairs. The mayor of the City of Frederick makes a budget proposal that slams 12 employees into the unemployment line. And she blames it on the aldermen who voted to let city taxpayers keep some of their hard-earned money in their own pockets by lowering the application of city taxes to 105% of last year's assessed value on their homes instead of the 110% of previous years.
The county commissioners touted the fact that they had an unexpected $26 million to consider. And while taxpayers rejoiced that finally there was a chance for some tax relief - because Lennie Thompson and Mike Cady said so.
But the other three commissioners - with Mr. Thompson and Mike Cady joining in on occasion - spent ever penny at their disposal - NO TAX RELIEF SO FAR.
The commissioners heard appeal after appeal from county agencies and from non-profits. Seldom did they say no. Oh, they reduced the request on occasion, but they gave most of the appellants at least some of what they wanted restored.
And so the $26 million extra they had disappeared. And instead of tax relief, they increased the amount of taxes every property owner in the county will pay starting July 1.
The commissioners decided to retain the $1 per hundred of assessed value tax rate, despite the fact the state told them they could get the same revenue next year that they got this year by reducing the rate to 92 cents per hundred. So, that's an eight cent property tax rate increase for every property taxpayer in the county.
Then they considered the fire tax rate for those living in the "suburban" districts throughout the county. Despite being told by Mike Gastley that the county would not have to increase that suburban fire tax rate for the next two years because of a $2.5 million surplus in that account, the commissioners voted to increase the rate by 1.5 cents to eight cents per hundred of assessed value. This will only add to the surplus in the enterprise suburban fire tax fund.
Thus, these county commissioners have increased the taxes that every property owners living in Frederick County's suburban fire tax district by 9.5 cents per hundred.
What you will hear, on the other hand, is: "We only increased the rate a penny and a half. And that was only for those living in suburban fire tax districts."
Technically true, but patently blowin' smoke. The public must see through such blatant political rhetoric.
The good news about this is that only John Lovell and Mike Cady among the commissioners have announced re-election bids. These two, while running as fiscal conservatives, have done nothing to stem the out-of-control spending habits of the Board of County Commissioners over the past three years. And speculation is that the other three - Mr. Thompson, Bruce Reeder and Jan Gardner - will retire from Winchester Hall.
The bad news is that we may well get commissioners who are a whole lot worse. But then again, the possibility exists that we will elect five people who will realize that taxes - and fees - in this county are out of hand.