The Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Wednesday voted for a $.8471 real property tax rate which is an 8 cent increase per one hundred dollars of assessed value as opposed to the twelve cent possibility that was advertised. Each commissioner expressed reluctance at increasing taxes although pointing out that dramatic cuts alone could not balance the budget as they had hoped.
Additionally, the commissioners adopted a 3.2 percent income tax rate, effective January 1, 2012. The income tax rate was 2.85 percent. Commissioner Bob Simmons said, “Persons with higher income like myself will bare more of the burden than lower, fixed income people particularly poorer pensioners who will not be hurt at all.”
The commissioners noted that the property tax increase may sustain the county for one year, but it does not cover the projected deficits in the coming years or deal with the depleted reserves. A higher tax increase would have ensured government sustainability and possibly guarantee no additional tax increases in their term, but by selecting a lower tax increase they wanted to “force” themselves and county departments to keep looking at ways to cut costs and increase non-tax related revenues.
When the commissioners took office in December 2010 they were faced with a projected deficit of $19.2 million for fiscal year 2012 – which began July 1, 2011.
Following recommendations of the Task Force on Government Sustainability the commissioners reorganized county departments eliminating 61 county jobs (through further attrition and a hiring freeze this number has increased to 78 positions) resulting in a $5 million plus savings, and reducing services. These reductions included reduced days and hours at transfer stations (dumps), reduced services to seniors, reduced road and park maintenance and improvements, elimination of some recreation programs, elimination of the Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and the elimination of funding to the After School Program.
Additional savings were realized through the continuation, the second year, of county employees 5 to 10 day furloughs, no employee cost of living increases, higher contributions by employees to health care benefits, $100,000 reduction in Sheriff’s Department request for new vehicles, reduction in funding to Outside Agencies ( Hospice, the Arts Council, Chester Wye, and others) by 50 percent with no promise of any funding in the future and a reduction in the funding for the Board of Education, which constitutes 45 percent of the County’s budget, by $4.5 million.
In their budget resolution, the commissioners resolved among other things, to establish a Revenue Enhancement Taskforce made up of citizen volunteers to identify new ways to bring non-tax related revenue into the county budget, directed county department heads to continue to explore ways to reduce expenses and work with other agencies, such as the Board of Education to see if any synergies exist that could result in shared savings, directed QACTV to move toward a self-sufficient 501 ©3 organization by this next fiscal year and directed staff to publicize the State of Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Program available to income qualified citizens and the Property Tax Deferral Program available to income-qualified senior citizens. Information on both of these programs will be available in the near future at www.qac.org, on QACTV, in newspaper advertisements, and in informational packets to be distributed to senior centers and the libraries.